Mark Gleeson

To camp or not to camp?

2009-08-12 12:35
Mark Gleeson
Mark Gleeson

The new domestic season is underway, with much being made of how tough the condensed campaign is going to be.

Training camps for Bafana Bafana have been agreed between the South African Football Association and the Premier Soccer League and as a result the usual nine-month season is being squashed into six.

It is a big sacrifice by the clubs but in the months ahead of the World Cup they all want to be seen to be helping the national cause.

The camps were first suggested by Carlos Alberto Parreira and then insisted upon by his successor Joel Santana.

What the Brazilian coaches want, the Brazilian coaches get, because SAFA is so frightened of being accused of not having done all it can to ensure Bafana Bafana have some chance of success at the World Cup finals.

But in this climate of acquiescence, it is doubtful proper thought was given to exactly how beneficial these camps will be. To my mind, there are two major doubts about the idea, one logistical and one sporting.

Firstly, the training camps are all being held outside of dates allocated on the FIFA calendar for international competition. That means that clubs are not obliged to release their players to the national team. By changing their season, PSL teams obviously agreed that their players can go off with Santana but there will be no such commitment from the overseas clubs where the top South African footballers compete.

That means key players like Steven Pienaar, Kagisho Dikgacoi (if his transfer to Fulham goes through this week), Tsepo Masilela and Bernard Parker are not going to be available. SAFA reckon they are going to try and make some deals with their clubs but realistically speaking, which team is going to allow its player to go off on a month-long training camp in mid-season?

The camps are planned for January (reportedly in Brazil), and then from March onwards.

Secondly, and from a sporting perspective, how effective are these camps going to be? They might be helpful in forging a happy family situation and helping with individual fitness, but is it not more desirable to have players playing in the competitive environment in an end-of-season championship race or cup chase to ensure they have the right form and fight for the World Cup?

No country besides South Africa and Saudi Arabia will spend as much time hoping its national team before the 2010 World Cup. The Saudis have in the past cancelled their league to allow the national team to 'camp' but without any success. There is often no substitute for the rigours of real competition rather than month after month of meaningless friendly games.

SAFA insist the training camp concept has been well thought out and is essential. I think they've agreed to something out of fear of being blamed in case Bafana Bafana flop at the World Cup, and they should have let the PSL get on with their season as normal, as all the top countries are doing.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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