As the domestic league heads towards the business end of the season, the well-travelled question of local honours versus national aspirations has again surfaced.
South African Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan called an emergency meeting with the Premier Soccer League to avoid a possible conflict with clubs whose players have been selected for the Fifa U-20 World Cup in South Korea next month.
U-20 coach Thabo Senong has called up a squad of 28 players, who started preparations on Wednesday.
But Senong has been forced to drop six PSL players in a compromise decision, hoping they will be available when he conducts his final training camp. They are Reeve Frosler and Phakamani Mahlambi (Bidvest Wits), Kobamelo Kodisang (Platinum Stars), Teboho Mokoena and Fagrie Lakay (SuperSport United), and Grant Magerman (Ajax Cape Town).
“Kodisang is an excellent talent,” said his coach, Cavin Johnson. “I am truly humbled to have been part of his growth and development. And if he makes the final cut of players going to the World Cup, I cannot be selfish by denying him that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Jordaan said he realised that the domestic championship had reached a critical stage, but was confident the parties would reach an amicable agreement that would be beneficial to the country.
“We have to agree that Magerman should go,” said Ajax coach Stanley Menzo. “I’ve got to think about the player first and, if it’s good for him to play at the World Cup, then so be it — I cannot stand in his way.
“We have to release him. But then again, I hope we are safe from relegation in order to give him a chance to experience the World Cup.”
Gavin Hunt (Wits) and Stuart Baxter (SuperSport United) were not available for comment, although Baxter is known to be considerate of national youth coaches. But Hunt might not readily release Mahlambi. Wits have a real chance of winning the league title and may be loath to release a striker who’s scored critical goals for them this season.
“We depart for the Netherlands on Monday, where we will play three friendly matches against the Ajax Amsterdam, Feyenoord and PEC Zwolle reserve sides,” said Senong. “We will then proceed to China for a final friendly match against Mexico.”
The six withdrawn players may be able to join the team for their final training camp in China. “It is vitally important to spend a couple of days in Asia for acclimatisation and adaptation purposes,” he said. “If we cannot get all the players to Korea at least 10 days prior to the opening match, we might be forced to drop them completely from the team.”
Good news for Senong is that all his overseas-based players — Luther Singh and Liam Jordan (Portugal) and Kabelo Seriba (Latvia) — have been granted permission to join the squad this weekend.