Africa should invest in development

JOHANNESBURG - Spain has for years now dominated global football.

They are the current world champions, European champions both at senior and Under-21 level and it won’t be much of a surprise if they add another title at the on-going Confederations Cup in Brazil, where they again are showing imperious form.

The nation has shown a penchant of wanting sustainable success by ploughing big into soccer development. The recent Under-21 tournament in Israel, where they hammered Italy 4-2 in the final, was another warning sign to any pretender to their domineering rule that they might be in for a long wait.

And another interesting aspect was the fact that most of the players in that Under-21 squad are regulars with top clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Mallorca. This ensures that the players are exposed to the rigours of competitive football week in week out and are part of the system going forward.

It is no wonder that Spanish clubs are leaders in their development ranks, something that has seen both Barca and Madrid remain at the top of international football since eternity.

A vibrant youth development always reflects positively on a country’s senior national team.

Italy, Netherlands and Germany have also, for years, showed their prowess in soccer development hence these nations’ consistency on the international scene.

England, whose clubs mainly rely on foreign talent, where again badly exposed at the recently ended Under-21 tournament, suffering humiliating defeats at the hands of their opponents. For the country which claims to have invented football and whose last biggest achievement was a controversial 1966 World Cup victory, signs don’t look so good as opposed to their counterparts.

The country might have the most competitive and pulsating league in the world, thanks to their aggressive marketing and television audience, but unless they invest heavily in developing local talent, their successes in clubs soccer would never be converted to the national team.

Having watched the Under-21 tournament, I was left asking myself whether this was not the time that Africa starts learning from the likes of Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and other European countries that there is no short cut to continued success without advancing youth development.

The main reason why no African country has shown potential of winning a World Cup is purely because there are no visible development structures within most of the continent’s federations.

A notable and glaring example is lack of junior competitions on the continent. When last where African junior teams involved in competitive tournaments? And how then do we expect countries to perform miracles since the same junior players are the future for any national team?

This lack of developmental agenda has been the reason behind widespread age-cheating in African continent as there is no tracking of players from junior level upwards. In Europe, all players are tracked from the very junior level until they graduateto senior level. There is no chance of someone surfacing from nowhere and claim to be 25 when he is close to 40.

Unless Africa as a footballing continent goes back to the drawing board and get their act together, this continent will never achieve what the Great Pele wished for; seeing an African team win a World Cup.

We just witnessed our African Nations Cup champions and representatives at the Confederations Cup, Nigeria, almost effectively being eliminated from the tournament following Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to Uruguay. The Super Eagles arrived in Brazil on the back of shambolic preparations which included a strike for bonuses – in this day and age. But this can only be expected from Africa.

This is how things are done on this continent; lack of planning, greedy and pure lack of professionalism. There is need for a shift of that mindset, otherwise it will be calamity after calamity and this world will never wait for us. - Tinotenda Panashe

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