Rich star, poor star

South African football is becoming a microcosm of society’s gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Some of the players in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) will earn in a month what some of their opponents will have to sweat out the entire season to make.

Sibusiso Zuma, the newly signed player for Mamelodi Sundowns, will become the country’s highest-paid footballer, with a salary of R200 000 a month.

As recently as the end of the 2006/07 season, Thuso Phala fell out with Platinum (then Silver) Stars because he felt he deserved much more than the R2 000 a month he was earning. The club disputed this figure, saying he actually earned R2 500.
According to the South African Football Players’ Union (Safpu), the average salary for a PSL player is about R8 000 a month.

Zuma is not unique. His new teammate, Zimbabwe striker Peter Ndlovu, signed from Sheffield United, then in the English Premier League, was reputed to earn R160 000 a month. Next on that list are former Sundowns player Jose Torrealba, who earned R100 000, and Esrom Nyandoro, raking in R80 000. Torrealba has since joined Kaizer Chiefs.

Players’ agent Mike Makaab says many factors determine a player’s salary.

In the case of players such as Zuma, who have played overseas, the number of big clubs chasing their signatures and the high demand for strikers increases their earning potential. He says the fact that these players have delivered in past also counts.

“There are players in the English Premier League who get £25 000 a week and they deserve to get that money. It is always about supply and demand. Players need to prove that they deserve that amount of money. Ronaldo [who earns £119 000 a week] has proved to Manchester United that he deserves to earn a high salary and it is the same with the other players in the league,” says Makaab.

Maakab says it is unfair for people to complain about footballers’ salaries, as it takes a long time for them to get to those salaries, if they do at all.

“It takes time to reach a level where you get that amount of money. Top sportsmen have a short life. It takes six to eight years for footballers to really earn serious money. A normal businessman gets to work for 30 years, so people must stop making too much fuss about this,” said Makaab.

Though he acknowledges that there are players earning more than they deserve, Makaab says salary determinations go beyond what the player can do on the field.

“Los Angeles Galaxy got more money after they brought Beckham into their the team. That helps to enhance the team’s brand.”

Safpu spokesperson Elvis Sekgobela says the union is pushing for minimum wages in the league.

“We want a minimum salary of R12 000 for a one-year contract so that in their second season they are able to negotiate for a better salary,” he says.

The union does not have a problem with some players earning as much as they would in Europe because this would be good for the local game.

Bidvest Wits coach Roger de Sa says players have become commodities and everything depends on whether the buyer can afford them.

“Players have become a commodity and assets to their teams. That is why you will find teams paying so much for them. You find players who are overpaid and ones who are underpaid. It happens and we cannot change it. It is up to the people who are paying the money. If you can afford to pay that money then you spend it.”

Ajax Cape Town’s Mkhanyiseli Siwahla says if a player is worth it, he should be well paid.

“Zuma is known even though he is old—he deserves that money. There’s pressure when you play for a big team—it is not a comfort zone. The agents must be the ones who work hard so that players can get better salaries,” says Siwahla.

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