DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 22: Lebohang Mokoena of Mamelodi Sundowns after his goal and his teams 2nd during the 2014 Nedbank Cup last 16 match between Golden Arrows and Mamelodi Sundowns at Kings Zwelithini Stadium on March 22, 2014 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

Mamelodi Sundowns have what it takes to become the Barcelona of South African football, but they do not seem to acknowledge the potential their youth development have.

Barcelona for years have led by example, preferring to promote players from their development structures who go on to become world stars.

Now and again they have gone out to splash cash on players such as Neymar, Cesc Fabregas, Ibrahim Afellay, Jordi Alba and Alexis Sanchez. Fabregas and Pique are players who were in the Barcelona junior ranks, but they returned to the Catalan club after showing great promise at Arsenal and Manchester United respectively.

The Catalan giants have been very successful with a squad teeming with players who have come through their ranks – Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi, Victor Valdez, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez.

Sundowns probably have the most talented players this country has to offer in their development system, but we may never get to see these players playing in the senior team because the Chloorkop-based club’s focus is not on promoting young players.

Recently I attended the Under-17 Gauteng Future Champions and the Bayhill Under-19 Premier Cup. In both tournaments, Sundowns did well, reaching the semi-finals in the Future Champions competition, and making the final of the Premier Cup, only to lose to Ajax Cape Town. But when the individual awards were handed out at the Premier Cup, Sundowns were the big winners. Sphelele Khebesi was Player of the Tournament and Mpho Mathekga Goalkeeper of the Tournament, which shows just how much of an impact Sundowns made in the competition.

These players, and many others, I feel are ready to play in the PSL. They ought to be promoted to the first team, but Sundowns have been impulsively buying big name players only to leave them rot on the bench or in the stands.

Sundowns president Patrice Motsepe has invested tons of cash in the club’s development, but there is no point pumping so much money bringing in coaches to ensure there are top facilities if the young players are not likely to get a chance to prove themselves in the first team.

In recent years Sundowns have promoted some youngsters, but not many have been successful. Siyanda Xulu was given a chance and soon attracted interest from Russia, joining FC Rostov. Jabulani Shongwe, Buhle Mkhwanazi, Siyabonga Ngubane, Samuel Julies and Doctor Mampuru were in and out of the team, but they have all now left because of a lack of game time. Mkhwanazi, 24, is currently doing very well at the University of Pretoria as captain and has represented Bafana Bafana as well, but they chose to sign 29-year-old defender Thabo Nthethe, someone closer to retirement.

Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane keeps saying he is building a team for the future, so it’s probably time he looks at bringing in more young players. He has a good squad, with depth, and adding young blood to replace ageing players like Surprise Moriri and Esrom Nyandoro is the way to go. Instead of buying players they don’t really need, Sundowns should consider promoting more youngsters so they get a taste of first team action. Who knows, Sundowns could even be a stronger side, and they could even win more trophies.

Sundowns have so many players out on loan, they could probably make two super teams.

Mosimane has played development product Percy Tau in the line-up this season and I hope a few more will get a run in the line-up next season.

Motsepe has a good relationship with Barcelona and should be using that link to ensure his club become like the Catalan giants. - Saturday Star

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