South Africa needs to build four world-class youth soccer academies in the major centres if Bafana Bafana are to become a force in soccer again.
Even if the academies were started tomorrow, it would take 10 to 15 years to produce world-class players for the country, according to former Bafana and Leeds United captain Lucas Radebe, and former England and Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey.
Radebe, who played 70 times for Bafana and was part of the squad that won the African Nations Cup on home soil in 1996, and Bailey, who played twice for England and 373 times for United, are determined to put something back into the game.
Both are concerned about the decline of the team and their prospects for the Soccer World Cup — where Bafana meet Mexico in the opening Group A match at Soccer City on June 11.
They then play Uruguay and France in the group phase and judging on their form, could become the first host nation to fail to qualify for the knockout stage.
Bafana have won once in their last 11 matches — against minnows Mauritius ranked 131st in the world — and Bafana squeezed home 1-0.
Said Radebe: ‘There is no point in bashing Bafana. We must support Bafana in 2010. It is not the players or coaching staff’s fault that we have declined.
”We did well in the Confederations Cup in June and showed there is hope for us, but we have to be realistic about our expectations.
”If we get past the first round anything would be possible. The reason for our predicament is we have not developed our resources.
”I have always said that when my playing career ended in England, I wanted to put something back into the game and Gary and myself have come up with a plan which we hope to get backers to support and we will be able to produce budding Bafana stars.â€
Bailey agreed: ‘This is a long-term project. We need to start developing players from eight-years-old and that means we need to find the talent and invest in them on and off the training ground from the earliest age possible.
”It would take a minimum of 10 years to produce world class players for Bafana. But it can be done.â€
Bailey said it would cost about R40-million per year to run the academies. ‘This is a long-term investment, but it is long overdue.â€
Bailey said top African players had been developed at club academies.
”Here in South Africa in the PSL we talk about youngsters who are 24 and developing. That is nonsense. At 24, players are already seasoned professionals in Europe. Look at a player like Wayne Rooney of Manchester United who made his Premiership debut for Everton aged 16 and at 24 he has already played over 50 times for England.â€
Bailey admitted it would be a big task for Bafana to get past the second round of the 2010 showpiece, after drawing two former world champions in France and Uruguay and the improved Mexicans — all of which are ranked under 30 in the world.
But Bailey was quietly optimistic and agreed with Radebe that the fans needed to support Bafana: ‘As a nation we need to get behind Bafana. With home support and the passion of playing at home, Bafana can rise to the occasion, but at the end of the day we need to put money and resources into the development of talent which we have a lot of but is going to waste.â€
Radebe’s business manager, Glyn Binkin, is at the forefront of finding backers for the development initiative: ‘The plans are in the pipeline and it is exciting.
”We all know that since 1996 Bafana have gone backwards and the only way to address this problem is through developing new stars from grassroots level as a matter of urgency.” – Sapa