There is great excitement and euphoria in Southern African football at the moment.
Five member countries of the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) have qualified for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Madagascar and Zimbabwe have made it against all odds to Africa’s premier football showcase.
Many people observing this unprecedented phenomenon in Southern African football would dismiss it as a one-off fluke or mere luck.
However, there is more to this wonderful story. The current football leaders stand on the shoulders of great men and women who worked very hard to develop the game in the region.
There is no doubt that a good number of current football leaders have no clue as to who some of these yesteryear leaders of the game were.
The foundations for COSAFA were laid by Nelson “Jumbo Jet” Chirwa, Ismael Bhamjee and their colleagues in the mid to late 1980s.
During that time, things were a lot tougher for Southern Africa with the apartheid-ruled South Africa literally at war with the whole of the sub-region. However, football continued to be enjoyed in the Southern Africa.
Being made up of newly independent states, the focus was mainly on the local leagues. Some of the players who emerged during this era are now club or national team coaches.
The advent of a democratic and non-racial South Africa brought even stiffer competition for the region, which improved the game.
It is now a fact that Southern Africa does not have world-class players at the moment.
The development structures in the several of the country of the region are not simply 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 Grobelaar, Kalusha Bwalya, Lucas Radebe, Benny McCarthy, Adam Ndlovu, Peter Ndlovu, and Benjani Mwaruwari.
These were outstanding performers, who could fit into any team in the world football.
The decline of 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 draws for the preliminary rounds and qualifying tournaments for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will soon be out.
Given current trends and status of football development programmes, it is indeed safe to bet that no team from Southern Africa will make it to the final group going to Qatar in three years to come.
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.
Egypt 2019 offers Southern Africa a chance to redeem some lost pride. It is an opportunity for Angola, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to rub shoulders with the best that Africa has to offer.
These countries should not go to this tournament just to make the numbers. They need to compete and effectively prepare otherwise all of them will be coming back home after the group stages.
A quick survey of the various football administrations will most probably reveal that very few of them have a 10-year technical development plan for the production of players who are capable of competing with their peers on the continent and beyond.
The football leaders think that players like Pele, Maradona, Messi, Drogba and Ronaldo are going to crawl out of the woodwork, somehow, through some kind of astonishing miracle.
Well, this is time for a reality check! In addition, most of the football leaders are quite comfortable to sit back and relax, waiting for the respective governments to utilise public funds to bail them out of their problems.
They do not have viable strategic plans and marketing initiatives to make their associations financially viable.
Even with the abundant financial support that has recently been extended by the world-governing body, FIFA, most Southern African football associations have no clue as to what is really needed to transform the game in their countries.
Egypt 2019 will deliver lessons to all participating in the tournament. The most important thing is for COSAFA members, including those that have not qualified for this AFCON, to learn something which they can use to transform the game in their respective countries.
It is all about making progress. The legendary African-American civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King stated that, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward”.
Good luck to Angola, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.