Beckham sets valuable example
When AC Milan signed England international David Beckham on loan from his US club, the story did not make waves. Part of the reason was that the loan was a short spell of just three months. What could he do in Italy in three months, critics sneered.
I share the sentiment that the Italian league is the toughest in the world. You don’t need just to play hard enough; you also need nerves of steel to survive in Serie A. Above all, you must be street-wise.
Many had thought Beckham’s multi-million dollar move to the LA Galaxy signalled his departure from bigger things in world football. In the greater scheme of things, leaving Real Madrid for the obscurity of the US league does not equate to progress. But Becks is showing his march to the top is still on track.
Beckham has surprised friend and foe alike with the swiftness of his adaption, and the impact he has had in Milan. Now everybody is taking note of his career in Italy, and the Milan management want him to stay longer. Beckham is clearly enjoying the revival of his club career at a very high level, but he must return to Galaxy on March 9.
Beckham’s story carries a valuable message for South African players, that there is nothing wrong with a change of scene to help one’s fortunes. The downfall of most local players is that their ultimate goal is to get a contract with Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates.
Once the above is achieved, there is no further ambition. This explains why these three big clubs have the highest rotation of players in the PSL. The 'Big Three' have the money to buy the best talent in the country, but end up discarding of the same talented players because of poor performance.
How can talent and a promising career go wrong at a big club in South Africa?
The answer is simple: the comfort zone.
Playing for one of the 'Big Three' earns a player an income and a lifestyle which is far above the national average. Some players think they have hit the jackpot once they arrive at Sundowns, Chiefs or Pirates, and consequently pay little attention to their careers.
Even when a promising career is relegated to the bench, or worse, the reserve team for long periods, many players do not feel the urgency to look outside to improve their fortunes. They rather stay out of action than forfeit the glamour which comes with the dream move to a big club.
The trappings of the good life take precedence over playing, which explains why many coaches bemoan the poor work ethic among the PSL players. In my book, the lack of spirit of adventure ranks very high among factors stifling the progress of South African soccer players.
A good example is that of Lebogang Mokoena of Orlando Pirates. Nicknamed “Cheeseboy” for the swanky lifestyle Bucs’ fat cheque has afforded him before he even turned 18, Mokoena took the local scene by storm with his youthful exuberance. He was a marvel to watch as he, the small guy that he is, used speed, tact and bravery to take on big defenders to create or score goals.
All good things must come to an end, and for Mokoena it was far quicker than average. By the time he turned 20 the good life had taken a major tall on his career, and he became a bench-warmer. Coaches came and went and, Mokoena, once one of the brightest products of Pirates’ development academy, is still a part-time player.
Last June he had a chance to start afresh elsewhere, but he chose to extend his contract by another three years. His decision was simply motivated by fear to stand up and fight in a smaller club with limited resources. It is easier to disappear on the bench of a big club, than to be huffing and puffing in a smaller club far away from Johannesburg.
But one thing players like Mokoena fail to see is that sometimes you need to take one step down in order to make greater strides in life. At 22, time is on his side. But if he continues to warm the bench for yet another season, how does he expect to be attractive to the transfer market, both locally and overseas?
Some players did not have it easy before making their mark. Mokoena’s team-mate and Soweto homeboy, Teko Modise, played one PSL season in 2001/02 with now defunct Ria Stars of Polokwane. He was playing in the lower division for another Polokwane team, Pillars FC, when SuperSport United signed him in 2006.
Modise was already 24 at the time. A season later Pirates bought him, and today Modise is not only the current SA Footballer of the Year, but the best performing Bafana Bafana player. Although he deserves a lucrative offer from abroad despite his ripe age of 26, Modise can still secure a bright future here at home. Everything depends on his attitude and conduct.
Other players taking full advantage of new environments recently include former SuperSport United new striker Katlego Mashego, who has sprung to life since arriving at Pirates a month ago, while Excellent Walaza is also doing well at United where he is on loan from Pirates.
However the long-awaited move of the season will finally happen on Saturday, when former Sundowns striker Lerato Chabangu makes his SuperSport United debut. With his first opponents being the sluggish Thanda Royal Zulu FC from Durban, the speedy and strongly-built Chabangu stands a chance to celebrate his new career move with a goal - or more.
Tumo writes exclusively for Sport24.
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