It is a football truth that for any national team to grow into a dominant force they need to invest in the development infrastructure of the country.
Coupled with the focus on youth football, a team needs to consider experience and make sure that a certain amount is present in the squad.
South Africa was once a powerhouse of African football, but the country was then hit by a downward spiral which saw the team being reduced to minnows. The country lost its football identity and the winning culture disappeared. Fingers were pointed and heads rolled, but this did not seem to help Bafana Bafana’s course to regain their lost pride on the continent.
The lack of proper development structures that could produce players capable of playing in top leagues was questioned. For a country with talent in abundance, Bafana should have more than just a single continental title to their name, which was won in 1996.
With the country having earned millions after the hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup and Bafana showing some character coupled with the courage to compete with the best in the world, everyone seems to agree that a large portion of that money should be ploughed into grass roots development.
There is one major factor of youth development that has been ignored, and it is still is. Many would concur that talent alone is not enough, it has to come with attitude and discipline. Our players and administrators have to call themselves to order.
The country’s attitude towards the CAF Champions League and continental club championships in general leaves a great deal to be desired, and it has no doubt played a major role in the decline of the national team.
This attitude over the years has cost the country dearly, and the Confederation of African Football's qualification criteria for the African Champions League was hard on the country in 2010.
CAF ranked countries according to how their teams had performed in the Champions League and Confederations Cup for the past five years. Once the data from 2005 to 2009 was tallied, the top 12 countries were announced as those eligible to enter two clubs in the Champions League. South Africa was ranked 14th and thus only allowed to enter one team into the competition.
North Africa dominated the list, as they have always taken pride in the continental competitions led by Egypt’s Al Ahly, who have six titles under their belt. Statistics show that since the tournament's inception in 1964, a South African club has only featured in the final twice.
Orlando Pirates lifted the Cup in 1995 and Mamelodi Sundowns followed with some heroics, but they were in vain as the Brazilians lost to Al Ahly in 2001. The South African clubs have not shown a keen interest in the competition, and would even field under strength teams in the tournament, more concerned with having a strong team for their next League game.
And the fans have shown even less interest. SuperSport United played in a match when the echos of players calling for the ball could be heard around the stadium, due to a lack of home support. This is no doubt a result of the tournament’s lack of exposure, and the terrible broadcasting of the tournament ensures that it will never be as popular as the local leagues.
The same as Uefa's Champions League in terms of structure, the African version gets virtually none of the same prestige as its big brother, but this should not banish South African clubs from competing with passion and determination, as this could also see Bafana Bafana paying the price. Since 1999 the country’s football went through a recession, which seems to be over now that Pitso Mosimane is at the helm of the national team.
Clubs have often said that the expenses and complications involved in travelling across the continent proves to be a strain to the clubs’ budgets. While South Africa may not regard the competition in very high esteem, their poverty stricken neighbours Zimbabwe take matters a little more seriously. The directors of their clubs often finance their campaigns, a move that South African administrators should perhaps consider adopting instead of paying large bonuses.
Mosimane has emphasised the need to take the Champions League seriously and his sentiments should be taken to heart by anyone who wants to see Bafana continue their impressive revival.
For a player to be the best he has to compete with the best and the platform for that is the continental showpiece, which brings together various football styles and top players from throughout Africa.
In 1995, Pirates triumphed in the Champions League and that success story was followed by the national team’s 1996 glory in the Africa Cup of Nations. The moral of the story seems to be that the form of club sides in continental competition is relative to the exploits of the national team.
Spain are another prime example of this, with Real Madrid and Barcelona doing well in the Uefa Champions League, while the national team went on to win the 2010 World Cup.
Egypt have seven Africa Cup of Nations titles and their top club Al Ahly can boast six CAF Champions League titles. The bulk of the Pharaohs’ team that dominated the continent was made up of players in their domestic League who participated in the continental championships.
South African players lack the experience of competing in club competition, and that makes for a weaker national team. The experience gained in club expeditions all over the continent could go a long way to strengthening Bafana for World Cups and African Nations Cup tournaments.
This year SuperSport took continental championships seriously and this helped the national team a great deal in beating Egypt. Morgan Gould, who travelled to Egypt with his club, was key in making sure the Bafana back door was shut in both matches where Bafana beat the Pharoahs 1-0 and drew 0-0.
According to Mosimane, Gould said he knew the Egyptian strikers well and he would “handle them”. The two clean-sheets can be attributed to a more experienced outlook and defensive stability as a result.
It is time South African clubs take the Champions League seriously and watch Bafana Bafana conquer the continent once again. After winning the treble, Orlando Pirates are undisputed local kings, and they need to lead the charge and show their rivals in the PSL that CAF club competition is an invaluable tool for themselves, and the national team that they serve with a healthy number of top-class players.