Desiree Ellis coach of South Africa during the 2021 SASOL League Technical Session. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Desiree Ellis coach of South Africa during the 2021 SASOL League Technical Session. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

Cosafa countries set to benefit from Spanish connection

By Herman Gibbs Time of article published May 23, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - Football coaches from Southern Africa were afforded a fascinating insight into the world-renowned academy programme of Celta Vigo, the Spanish La Liga club which captured the imagination of South Africans in 1999 when they signed Cape Townborn striker Benni McCarthy from Ajax Amsterdam.

The coaches, drawn from the professional and grassroots ranks, recently attended the four-week-long virtual masterclass sessions convened by La Liga, the mother body of Spain's professional leagues. It is arguably one of the best technical leagues in the world.

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Last November, La Liga and the Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) concluded a memorandum of understanding to assist with football development in Southern Africa. The partnership has ensured a steady stream of activities aimed at growing the game on all levels.

Celta Vigo's academy programme aroused curiosity two decades ago when several of its graduates found their way into the leading clubs, particularly in Europe. Since then, many Celta Vigo academy graduates have signed for La Liga clubs. Today, Celta Vigo is considered one of the best clubs for developing young players.

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Last year Celta Vigo won the prize for ’Best Internationalisation Strategy’ at the World Football Summit Awards. Their model has been adopted in several countries like Romania, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and the US.

Coach of South Africa’s national women’s team, Desiree Ellis, attended the workshop and was inspired by what could be achieved in the field of development with limited resources.

“The La Liga Masterclasses were very insightful and informative,” said Ellis. “La Liga’s coaches are very meticulous and detail-oriented.

“They follow proper processes in developing their players, and the lesson for us is that if you take short cuts in developing players, you will not reach your objectives.

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“We may not have the resources of La Liga and its clubs, but we have to start somewhere. The sessions have given us plenty of good ideas and shown us what is possible if we approach development properly.”

Another leading light in South African women’s football, Fran Hilton-Smith, also attended the workshop. She has pioneered Mzansi women’s football on many fronts and has made massive contributions in the region too.

“It was an inspiration and an incentive for us, seeing the work and effort clubs like Celta Vigo put into their academy programmes,” said Hilton-Smith.

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“We need to be pushing our academies much more, as that is the most important aspect of football.

“The development of junior players is a top priority for La Liga, and we must learn from people who are investing a lot into being the best in the world.

“The development systems of the Spanish teams are so advanced and scientific, and attaining the level they are at is something all of us at Cosafa must aim for.

“All of us who participated in the La Liga Masterclasses learnt a lot. I must commend LaLiga and its clubs for their willingness and openness to share their knowledge with us.

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“It is something that has inspired us and will encourage our regional technical directors to meet regularly so that they can share the knowledge and experience.”

George Dearnaley, a former Bafana Bafana and AmaZulu striker, was another South African coach at the workshops. He is busy with several development coaching projects across Africa. He was impressed by how much thought, organisation and planning goes into every element of La Liga's football vision.

“From the theory, the philosophy of the game, the game model, development programmes, to the culture and environment they want to instil in their players, all have been taken care of,” said Dearnaley.

“Every level of the game, from youth to the top professional leagues, is well served with proven strategies in place. These are all things that I dream about doing with our development programmes in South Africa.

“What always comes across from everyone at La Liga and their clubs is the passion, the enthusiasm and dedication for the game. No matter how much football I have played, or watched, and in my 20 years of development coaching, there is always something to learn from these Spanish football clubs. I have enjoyed the education.”

Spaniard Marcos Pelegrin, La Liga Southern Africa managing director and founder of World Football Summit, is a big fan of African football. He is hoping African teams will make a big impact at the next World Cup.

“We have moved from words to action and started sharing real tangible insights from La Liga and its clubs with Cosafa’s coaches and structures,” said Pelegrin.

“Our exciting partnership is getting stronger, and we look forward to continuing to make a tangible impact in supporting African football development.

“We hope Cosafa associations and clubs will be able to implement some of the ideas and concepts from the masterclasses, both in amateur and professional football.”

IOL Sport

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