Mario Booysen of South Africa challenged by Elias Maguri of Tanzania during 2017 Cosafa Castle Cup match between South Africa and Tanzania at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Capetonians to have worn the captain’s armband in a Bafana Bafana jersey include, among others, Benni McCarthy, Shaun Bartlett and André Arendse. 

Another name was added to the list when Mario Booysen skippered the SA national team for the recent African Nations Championship (Chan) home and away victories over Botswana.

The event is designed for countries to use only players performing in local leagues - and, as such, it is seen as a developmental tool for national teams to build the international experience of younger, emerging footballers.

Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter admits that, in the past, the Chan tournament and the Cosafa Cup (in which only countries from the southern region of Africa participate) were not all that high on South Africa’s priority list.

But the former Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United mentor, at the same time, believes that he can use the competitions positively.

Already, and especially in the manner in which 28-year-old Cape Town central defender Booysen has led the side, Baxter is learning more about the next level of talent available to the national squad.

“Mario Booysen has done very well as captain,” said Baxter. “He started a little sloppy, but he grew into a giant at the finish. He took responsibility, he is always talking to the players and always willing to help. For him, the team is always more important than the individual.”

There’s no doubting Booysen’s ability as a player and he has now also showed his leadership qualities. In a career that is still trying to take root, the tall defender has hopefully proven that he is worthy of a more permanent starting place at a PSL club.

He started his professional career in the Mother City at Ajax Cape Town before going on to play for Bloemfontein Celtic, Maritzburg United, SuperSport United and Mamelodi Sundowns.

Unfortunately his career is littered with loan spells at various clubs because of his inability to tie down a starting place. Perhaps, now, after his Bafana experience, and Baxter’s complimentary words, things can finally fall into place for the Cape defender.

Booysen spent last season on loan at SuperSport (during Baxter’s coaching tenure at the Pretoria club), but he will be returning to his real employers Mamelodi Sundowns this season. 

At this stage, it is not yet clear whether he is in Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane’s plans - if not, then he certainly deserves to move on and find a club that appreciates his undoubted ability.

Booysen spoke highly of the experience he gained from being part of the Bafana set-up.

“We learnt a lot and we can walk away knowing that we’ve grown as players,” said Booysen. “We can go back to our clubs with more football knowledge as each player came away with a positive attitude. We did well in representing our country and we all feel privileged to have been chosen for Bafana. 

“It also wasn’t difficult for me to be captain because the players around me were professional and mature.”

After the Chan success over Botswana (3-0 on aggregate), Bafana are through to the next round of the competition. 

Next up are Zambia and, for that match, Baxter will hand the reins to his assistant, Thabo Senong, while he focuses all his attention on Bafana’s all-important 2018 World Cup home and away qualifiers against Cape Verde on September I and 5.

The two upcoming Chan legs against Zambia are scheduled for August 12 and 19, which is the same time as the PSL gets under way. As such, because the Chan event is not Fifa-sanctioned, clubs are not obligated to release their players. 

No decision has been taken as yet, but it is likely that South Africa may send a young squad of U20 and U23 players to take on Zambia, instead of facing yet another club v country headache with PSL clubs.

Nevertheless, as Baxter looks forward, in reflecting on the players used for Chan and Cosafa, he was still upbeat about the talent available.

“The South African public has been a little apathetic with their view of Cosafa and Chan, and they have a right to because it was never really placed anywhere in the programme,” said Baxter.

“What we have tried to do now is to say let’s put it somewhere where it serves South African football. Given the results, given the way we have approached it, I think we are on the way to maybe getting the people on board and understanding what we are trying to do.

“The younger ones have thrown their hats in the ring, but are they ready now? No, they are not. But we have Zambia next and the young ones will get a few more international games.

“I think we have found a way we can approach Cosafa and Chan in a way that will serve South African football. That is the sort of experience we want to get into the youngsters’ boots - you can’t buy that and you can’t get it at club level. 

“We have to look at it like the Germans, who sent their young squad to the Fifa Confederations Cup recently.

“I think, if these kids keep going as they have, maybe very soon one of them will play an Afcon qualifier or a World Cup qualifier for Bafana.”

Weekend Argus

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