JOHANNESBURG – Neil Tovey has admitted that Safa were notified by Bidvest Wits’ CEO, Jose Ferreira, that Phakamani Mahlambi would not be released for the upcoming Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations (U20 Afcon).
However, Safa’s technical director had hoped that Ferreira would change his mind leading up the biennial continental showpiece, which takes place from February 26 to March 12.
Mahlambi played a crucial role in the South Africa U23 squad that qualified for the Rio Olympics last year. And Tovey, who was relishing at the prospect of having the 19-year old wonderkid in the U20 squad this time around, said he was disappointed that Mahlambi would not be joining the team.
“Whatever,” Tovey responded before he gave his full response. “But what can you do. We would have loved to have the player in the squad. But his club is not willing to release him. I understand that they have ambitions of winning the league, but this (U20 Afcon) is a World Cup qualifier we are talking about.
“Let me make one thing clear,” Tovey continued. “Phakamani Mahlambi was never a Wits player in the first place. He went through the Safa Transnet School of Excellence (schooling programme) before they signed him.
“He went through the Safa structures. I find it a bit disappointing that they are not willing to release him now. Why deny a player of an opportunity to play for his country. I just don’t get it.”
Earlier this week SuperSport United’s CEO, Stan Matthews, said that Safa should take junior players’ schooling into consideration when calling them up for future camps. Matthews said that five out of the seven SuperSport academy players who represented South Africa at the 2015 Fifa U17 World Cup in Chile had to repeat a grade.
In response, Tovey said: “It’s not up to Safa whether a player finishes their schooling or not. It’s not. It’s actually up to the individual on whether how far they want to go in their education.”
“It happens all over the world,” Tovey added. “Some players end up making it in life, and some just don’t. That’s just the way it is. We are not going to deprive a player to go and play in a prestigious tournament such as the World Cup if he wants to.
“We are not going to do that. It’s really up to their respective clubs to make sure that their schooling programme is taken care of, not us. We can only assist.”