IOL soccer writer Njabulo Ngidi. Photo: Karen Sandison
JOHANNESBURG 
 Lehlohonolo Majoro must have felt like a pensioner on what should have been a celebratory day for the Bidvest Wits forward.

The 31-year-old was asked twice how many years he feels he still has to give to football right after he was named the Absa Premiership Player of the Month for February on Monday.

Majoro’s “sin” is passing the 30-mark. If you’re unfamiliar with what the 30-mark is, it’s the grave that careers are slaughtered at in South African football with the belief that people over the age of 30 are useless.

“The PSL is one league that will make you feel as if you’re old,” Majoro said.

“Any time you are asked these questions (of how many years you have remaining) you feel like you’re 41, whereas there are many players abroad who play for a long time. 

“In the PSL we have (Siyabonga) Nomvethe (40) who is still playing. There’s (Mabhuti) Khenyeza (35), Yeye (Reneilwe Letsholonyane, 35) and Shabba (Siphiwe Tshabalala, 33). In fact, there are a lot of them. 

“I don’t know why I am getting this question. Maybe it’s because I have changed teams a number of times. 

“But like I told you, no one is guaranteed their job. You must make use of the chance you have while you still can. That’s what I am trying to do.”

The obsession with age is a terrible mind-set that’s not only dumb but also has far reaching consequences, like contributing towards age cheating. 

Who would want to “age” with so many opportunities limited to certain age groups while that hard to open door is also quick to shut once you reach 30? 

If you’re a late bloomer, tough luck, because according to our standards you only have a few years to make the most of your career. 

South Africa has a terrible attitude towards age. We call 25-year-olds youngsters and believe that those over 30 must start thinking about retirement regardless of what they can still offer.

The reason for that is this constant building that our national team undergoes which makes it look like Sandton roads that are forever being repaired. 

We are quick to discard old players for “youngsters” without putting in a plan to allow for a seamless transition from the old guard to the future generation.

Nomvethe is an anomaly who can outrun many youngsters and has a lot to offer in the game beyond the minutes he spends on the field.

Senior players will give you more than just their performances in matches. The time they spend with youngsters at training is very important in their growth.

But the problem is that you can’t quantify that as number crunchers will say player X is giving so many minutes, he is useless  we need to sign a younger player who can give you so much more. 

But that youngster can’t grow on their own. Teboho Mokoena, for instance, struggles to put into words the huge impact of having Letsholonyane as his teammate has had on his game.

Part of Mokoena’s growth is the knowledge “Yeye” has imparted to him as well as coming up against the veteran midfielder almost every day. 

A lot of that is away from the public eye who only see what Letsholonyane can and can’t do on the field now that he is over 30. We focus so much on age that we end up destroying players on either side of the spectrum.

Reeve Frosler should have been a first team player at Wits right after the Under-17 World Cup in Chile three years ago. 

But because he was young he was “gradually” worked into the system. Yes, there is a delicate way of introducing youngsters into the team but we also tend to be too conservative in our estimation of their readiness.

What I have loved about this season is a number of youngsters who have been given a chance. 

Obviously clubs like SuperSport United, Ajax Cape Town and Golden Arrows have consistently done that over the years, but it’s been a welcome change to see Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates now giving teenagers a run.

For that to happen consistently we should stop this obsession with age. What should be of primary concern for the first team is whether a player is good enough, and 15 or 50 shouldn’t be an issue. 

A good balance of youth and experience is important for any team. One shouldn’t be sacrificed for the other as they not only need each other, but can push each other to grow.


Saturday Star

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