Time to laud overseas success
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
It is not often the achievements of South Africans playing overseas is lauded.
This is quite strange, given it is almost every player’s desire to go and play in Europe and gaining an overseas contract is regarded as the pinnacle of achievement for a local footballer. But what the players see as the ultimate achievement is not reflected by the coverage. The small band of South Africans playing in professional leagues far from home shores do so almost anonymously.
There is a dribble of news on their match activity but magazines, who can afford greater space and more comprehensive coverage, rarely visit the players to illustrate their new circumstances and television rarely makes any effort to take viewers to the heart of their new circumstance.
This is a failing. Instead of celebrating the achievements of our brave compatriots on alien shores, the South African media largely ignore them.
It is no picnic for the players. For all their talent and ability, they must also develop a mental toughness to deal with all the obstacles they face. Alien culture, homesickness, adverse weather, racism are all factors to overcome.
Many do not succeed, unable to deal with the adversity. Look at how Mbulelo Mabizela threw away the opportunity of a lifetime and was eventually sacked by Tottenham Hotspur. But others have shown a warrior-like toughness; a example is MacBeth Sibaya in the hostile environment of Russia where blacks are often beaten up in the streets and everything about the country is a complete antithesis to sunny South Africa. He won two league titles there and was a cult hero in Tatarstan by the time he left.
On Saturday night there were two young South Africans involved in the Belgian Cup final in Brussels. Ayanda Patosi is a teenage sensation from Cape Town rapidly making his way in Europe and was on the bench for Lokeren in his very first season. His club won by a single goal against KV Kortrijk, for whom under-23 international goalkeeper Darren Keet played.
A fantastic achievement by both young South Africans but one which the South African Football Association chose to ignore. No letter of good luck, no post-match congratulations; Pitso Mosimane could have gone across to watch both and send them a clear encouraging signal that their efforts are not in vain. Of course this did not happen.
The problem in this country is there are too many people without a real international vision involved in our football, officials who can’t see past the next free meal or tee-shirt.
Our football is run by insular little men, who either have no understanding or are not prepare to engage the wider world of football.
Benni McCarthy told me that when he played in the UEFA Champions League final in 2004, not a single SAFA official called to wish him good luck. Not the SAFA president, nor the national coach. Scandalous really.
South Africa needs to celebrate the success of its footballers overseas. They leave these shores to become better footballers and the expertise they pick up ultimately is of much benefit to our national team. They deserve proper respect from the local football community because they are great ambassadors, even if SAFA and most of the media don't care.
Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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