Johannesburg - With careful tutelage, SA’s soccer players will soon be capable of becoming top international stars.
The little-known but incredible story of how Dutch goalkeeping giant Hans Vonk became a folk hero in this country will soon enter its second stage – it is one that will surely benefit South African football from the grassroots level.
His return to these shores will see the experienced shot-stopper move from the pitch and boardrooms of Europe to the very coalface of junior football at the famed Ajax Cape Town Academy.
When Bafana Bafana qualified for the World Cup in 1998, leading journalists spent months researching which European stars could have qualified to play for South Africa through lineage. The result was the discovery of Vonk and Pierre Issa.
This must be first and only recorded case where journalists played the role of scouts. It seems the circle has been completed, as the goalkeeper with 47 caps is now the scout and head of finding the country’s next generation of brilliant players.
Chatting to Vonk at the impressive Ikamva Village in Parow, his passion for youth football is as heartening as it is surprising.
The Dutch, German and Belgian coaches are a very particular lot – they are most meticulous and thorough in matters monumental and minute alike.
Ikamva is one of the country’s most impressive training facilities, and most of the action happens on the ground floor. It has a maze of offices, medical rooms, gyms and one of the most qualified technical teams in South Africa.
Each office is filled with history and steeped in unique football stories. The vision and passion that this club imbues is addictive as they talk about one of their teams dominating the scene.
That team, proudly displayed in photos in Vonk’s office, is the current Under-12 team – a dream team according to Vonk.
“If I was a betting man, I would bet my bond that at least six of these players will not only break into the first team, but will take the country by storm,” he says.
The tall man looks at the huge wall that has every team competing this season, from Under-12 upwards, with pictures of the players in their positions on mock fields. He talks about the young players as though he is pointing out Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
His eyes shine with obvious delight.
He has been there and done that while playing international and European football since 1988. But here he is, in an office in Cape Town gushing over players from Mitchells Plain, Nyanga and Gugulethu.
“The way these guys play ... it has to be seen to be believed,” he beams.
“You have to come on the bus with us when we pick up the players from their homes every day. It is so uplifting to go into the most dangerous parts of Cape Town and take these boys away from gangs and guns.
“My goal is to build a school here at Ikamva, as we do not want to lose a single player to the socioeconomic reality,” he adds.
“We have a great food programme, where we give top-of-the-range nutrition and provide a positive lifestyle for these boys, who are as talented as those from anywhere else in the world.
“But I know the hurdles the boys will face and we have to change that,” he says, smiling.
“The best youth coaches come from a teaching background and are not necessarily former players. There is a passion and an ability to work with troubled kids, and a psychological role model figure is a vital part of the psyche of a coach,” he states.
“I am loving every minute of this job and Ajax Cape Town is just like their Amsterdam family. This means that, if run correctly, the world’s top players can and will come from South Africa soon.”
Chief scout Sergio dos Santos, former Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates coach in the 1970s and 1980s, is hard at work down the passage in Ikamva.
A bundle of energy, this 62-year-old can’t sit still. He is on the move, hunting for players – his computer is burning hot and his love for the game bursts out of every hurried step.
The country needs more teams like this – teams that care as much about a junior striker called Boera, who has scored 70 goals this season, as they do about the first team, as the Premier Soccer League season gets going.
Augousti is the chief international sports writer at betting site eazibet.co.za