By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
There is no doubt that football is the most popular sport not only on the African continent but also all over the world. Football is a now a global multi-billion-dollar industry.
The development of football is the core business of the national football associations, continental confederations and the international federation, FIFA.
However, the development of football is no longer the monopoly of the aforementioned organisations. Private foundations and academies are now increasingly playing critical roles in the identification and development of talent.
It is important that private football academies are resourced by suitably qualified and accredited personnel. In terms of child protection laws, the personnel working at such academies must also be screened and appropriately vetted to avoid incidences of child abuse and neglect in these academies.
Although most national football associations do get development grants from FIFA, they nonetheless find the financial burden of developing the game challenging and cumbersome.
Privately run and funded academies are coming in to fill the gaps. In West Africa, academies have also developed into registered and elite competitive clubs.
A good example is the ASEC Mimosa Club, which developed Kolo and Yahya Toure, among many other football stars that have gone on to compete at the highest level in world football.
There is a need for the development of private football academies in Southern Africa. This will help accelerate the development of the game as well as placement of talented young footballers at lucrative clubs and the elite leagues all over the world.
As the old adage goes, “For one to be declared a big fish, you have got to swim with the sharks.” This saying also applies to the world of sport and, in this case, football. For you to be deemed great, you need to play with the best, not just on the African continent but also at the world level.
There is no doubt that the lucrative football leagues are the ultimate measure of success for any aspiring footballer.
While other parts of Africa remain fairly represented in the big leagues, Southern Africa has fallen way behind with only a handful of players competing with the best in the world.
Regarding the English Premier League, the best market in Europe, Southern Africa is no longer represented.
It is now a fact that Southern Africa does not have world-class players at the moment. The development structures in several countries in the region are simply not producing respectable talent that can get coaches, agents and scouts from Europe excited.
Gone are the days when Southern Africa was represented in top leagues in Europe by the likes of Bruce Grobbelaar, Kalusha Bwalya, Lucas Radebe, Benny McCarthy, Adam Ndlovu, Peter Ndlovu, and Benjani Mwaruwari. These were outstanding performers who could fit into any team in world football.
The decline in Southern African football is also illustrated by the fact that no team from the region qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The draw for the preliminary rounds and qualifying tournaments for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar are still being finalised. Given current trends and status of football development programmes, it is indeed safe to bet that no team from Southern Africa will make it into the final 32 going to Qatar in three-and-a-half years’ time.
Southern African teams are ill-equipped to compete with the best in Africa, let alone in the world. The reasons for this malaise are quite obvious to any lover of football.
To begin with, the environment established by the football leaders is not conducive to the development of the beautiful game. The football leaders do not provide dynamic and visible leadership for the acquisition of skills at a tender age through well-structured grassroots programmes.
Furthermore, the adoption of modern scientific means of talent identification and development is alien to most of the various football administrations. Private football academies can help complement the work of the national football associations in the development of youth football.
It is sad to see retired football players languishing in poverty when they could actually acquire coaching qualifications and contribute even more to the development of the game.
It is also important that private football academies seek corporate sponsorship to sustain their operations as well as making a bigger impact.
There is an overwhelming tendency to opt for quick-fix solutions for success by hiring and firing national coaches.
A quick survey of the various football administrations will most probably reveal that very few of them have a ten-year technical development for production of players who are capable of competing with their peers on the continent and beyond. This is where private football academies can come in and make a huge difference.
If ASEC Mimosa Club of Ivory Coast could produce so many talented players, it shows that there is scope for further development of private football academies through strategic partnerships.
Hopefully, the combinations of academies and the national football associations can help Southern Africa make that quantum leap in the identification and development of talent.