It is very clear to me that the current PSL set up is hurting the progress of South African football; writes Bongivangeli “Vee” Buthelezi.
The South African domestic league has been hurting the progress and development of South African soccer in many and varied ways, but in this article, I will highlight just one of them. The PSL punishes local clubs, unintentionally it might seem who compete in CAF competitions. The question is why are CAF continental competitions important, and how does the league compete our teams that compete in these competitions?
These competitions are important to clubs as they give them an opportunity to test themselves against the best in the continent, and even hopefully win the top honours in the form of CAF Champions league or the CAF Confederations Cup, and ultimately the CAF Super Cup. This continental football, and success also provides clubs with a chance to play with the best teams in the world, in the FIFA Club World Cup, and hence test themselves against the likes of Real Madrid.
These competitions are equally important to players as they help provide much needed development, and international experience. They also rise the player profile, and make them very attractive to the best teams in the World, as if a player of a group of players can hold they own against the best in their continent, this is usually a sign that they will be able to withstand and even thrive in difficult leagues such as La Liga, or Bundesliga.
These competitions are important for the local associations SAFA, as in every sense of the word, does SAFA’s job for them, by putting much needed development to local players especially in the area of mental strength, resilience, hunger for success, which have all been lacking among our Bafana players in the past 15 years or so. SAFA would still have to develop players, but consistent success by South African teams in Africa, will have huge knock over effects on Bafana Bafana.
It is not by chance that Spanish teams such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico have been consistently doing well in the European Champions league, at the same time as Spain has become the leader in world football. It is also not coincidental that Bayern Munich has been habitually doing well in the same competition, and Germany not only won the last World Cup, but has been a force in world football.
The reader can also see how English teams have been habitual underperformers in Europe, and the British national team, is a shadow of what it used to be. Of course, there is a lot more that goes to the success of national team, other than success of local clubs in continental football, such as early development, proper youth coaching, we contend here that continental football is huge indicator of how well a particular nation would do, and contend that is in in our interests to not only remove hurdles that prevent successful constant participation in continental football by our teams, but we should incentivize it.
Now on how the ABSA PSL punishes teams that participate in CAF competitions? It punishes them by overburdening them with a dangerous, and unsustainable load whenever they play in CAF competitions. Our league does not concurrently with the CAF calendar, but runs with the European calendar, which means when all other CAF leagues are in off season, we are not, and vice versa. The rationale behind this was an attempt to make it easier for South Africa players, to be signed by European teams, since our off-season and transfer season are aligned with that of Europe. This aim as noble as it is, but fails in that firstly you need to have good players before you can think of making it possible for them to be sold, in recent years the demand for South African players have decreased substantially, which defeats the purpose of changing the league calendar.
Orlando pirates was the team that suffered a lot from this madness as we shall show now. Pirates straight from winning the 2011/12 championship had a dream run in the 2013 CAF Champions League, losing to eventual Champions Al Ahly of Egypt. While everyone in the country was praising Pirates for this gutsy display, there signs by early 2013 that Pirates players were fatigued. While other South African teams were getting much needed rest, in off-season of 2012/13 season; Pirates was commuting all over Africa contesting in the CAF Cup, now add on top of this that they still played 30 league games, 4 Telkom Knockout games, 1 Nedbank cup game, 6 MTN 8 games and with the 16 CAF games (home and away, all games to the final), this makes it 57 games that Pirates played that year without any rest.
These numbers are off course comparable to games played by Barcelona or Madrid, but there are major differences are that both Madrid and Barca, always have an off season, and Europe is much smaller, much, much smaller to Africa, and easier to travel, a better playing conditions compared to a field in DRC for instance which means for an African team, that plays in Uganda one week, and back in South Africa, and then off to North Africa, and on and on it goes, it is unimaginable what Pirates had to go through, all without an off-season. Pirates competed in the 2014/15 CAF Confederations Cup, where again they displayed some of the greatest football we’ve ever seen in South Africa, and lost in the final to Etoile du Sahel, of Tunisia, and again after another round of games just below 60, and again without an off-season, Pirates was never the same.
This coupled by the fact that some Pirates players had played over 2 years of football without a break. The first signs that something was wrong Vladimir Vermezovic first complained of tired players in 20141 it then going to be Eric Tinkler, the new Pirates coach again complain of fatigue in his team2, in August 2015, and then injuries began, Matlaba-hamstring, Erasmus-hamstring, it was then Gabuza the ankle injury suffered by Oupa Manyisa in September 2015, who was among those players who had played for 2 years straight who was to be sidelined for over 10 months, and when he returned he was a shadow of what he was before. By the time Pirates was embarrassed by Supersport in that dramatic 6-1 loss, and the aftermath of a coach resigning on live tv, they were to be taken to school by a potent Sundowns side in that one-sided encounter ending 6-0 they were in a state of disarray, but very few if any realized where the wheels went off for them.
It was only a matter of time before Pirates imploded, other South African teams like Wits have avoided Pirates fate by fielding second-string side, because for Gavin Hunt fancied his chances on winning the championship and building a championship challenging team, compared to risking it all in Africa and battle chronic injuries, in a side that does not have Pirates depth, or budget. I suspect that fatigue and a crowded schedule is the reason Sundowns lost the championship last year to Wits, and yes it perhaps more accurate to say Sundowns lost the championship, as opposed to say Wits won it, with all due respect to Gavin Hunt and his charges I suspect that the reason why Pitso has been recalling many of Sundowns players that are loaned out is this problem that led to the implosion of Pirates. I do not think that Sundowns will implode like Pirates, only because Pitso has a bigger budget, but it would be very surprised if Sundowns win any major competition as from 2019 onwards, if things don’t change in terms of the PSL calendar.
Bongivangeli “Vee” Buthelezi is a pastor at Every Nation Church, Cape Town. He is based in Manenberg, Cape Flats, where he works to reform gangsters. His passion is to see the next generation transformed. He loves God, people, theology, politics, history, and of course, good coffee.