Johannesburg - Former Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana coach Philippe Troussier did not have a high regard for the passion and work ethic of South African football players. In his view, they were pampered brats.
A somewhat condescending European, Troussier liked to compare local players to those from other parts of Africa.
On the rest of the continent players played with passion, knowing that great and consistent performances were a ticket to a European league and a superior life for them and their families. Once in Europe they toughed out often hostile conditions, both climatic and racial.
The Frenchman would talk about how many of those players braved long and uncomfortable journeys on crowded buses to get to training but still gave their best on the pitch.
South African players, on the other hand, arrived at training in air-conditioned cars and had to be coaxed by the technical staff to give their best.
This lack of passion was evidenced by the fact that South African players rarely showed emotion when they lost a game, whereas in other countries it was common to see a whole team break down and cry after being knocked out of a tournament or losing a final.
“Ze only time I see ze South African player cry is when ze thieves broke into Doctor Khumalo’s VW Golf and stole his R16 000 speakers,” he once said.
That was in 1998, when the salaries of South African players were nowhere near the current astronomical figures of today.
Back then a player was considered well paid if he was nudging the R50 000-a-month mark. The Golf and BMW 3 Series were favourite drives. Today those are aspired to by Polokwane City and National First Division players.
The stars of the top five teams earn anywhere between R200 000 to R600 000 a month. Some boast a phalanx of sports cars and live in multimillion-rand homes in gated complexes.
This is largely thanks to the R1.6 billion television rights deal that the Premier Soccer League (PSL) signed with SuperSport International in 2007, which was then upped to R2 billion in 2011.
This deal revolutionised not only the watching experience and gave the PSL a continent-wide audience but also boosted the coffers of clubs.
Today clubs receive R1.5 million in monthly grants from the PSL.
Last year the PSL doled out cash bonuses of several million each to premiership clubs.
This may seem like small change for the heavyweights, who attract big sponsorships, but for small guys it makes a world of a difference.
In Donald Trump parlance it is YUGE!
Tedium into fizz
The superior quality of production – both of games and magazine features – as well as the vastly increased number of televised matches has given the PSL great bargaining power when it comes to negotiating with other sponsors.
The likes of Absa, Nedbank, MTN and Telkom – the premiership’s league and cup sponsors – pay top dollar for their place at the table.
The PSL has also been able to establish a reserve league in the form of the MultiChoice Diski Challenge, where players who do not get regular game time or those returning from injury get game time.
Another major beneficiary is the National First Division which, although receiving a lesser direct cash injection, is able to retain some decent professional players and get wide television exposure.
But the jury is still out on whether the SuperSport deal has had an impact on the quality of the football. Quite frankly some games are so skull-numbingly boring one would have more fun listening to a Jacob Zuma speech than watching them.
No amount of excellent production and camera angles can convert tedium into fizz. Add to this the poor crowds at stadiums, a factor which reduces the fun of watching at home.
The PSL’s being awash with money has also had what politicians call unintended consequences in that it has bred complacency in South African players. If Troussier was concerned about local players’ lack of ambition back then, he would be quadruply worried today. Because the stars of the big teams are in the upper brackets of South Africa’s earning power – playing abroad is no big deal.
They can have the sexiest cars, the sexiest cribs and because of this they can “bless” the sexiest babes. Many of them prefer the celebrity status at home to the much harder work they would need to put in to achieve the same in a foreign clime.
This myopia is one of the main reasons we produce so few international stars of note and why the continent’s richest nation is not at the Africa Cup of Nations.
As the football fraternity marks the first10 years of the deal and the PSL and SuperSport look to consolidate their relationship for another decade, they need to give thought as to how it adds to the beautiful game beyond beautiful production.
It is not enough to boast about being in the top 10 richest leagues in the world if the quality of the football itself is uneven and inconsistent.