The South African economy may be struggling but football remains big business in the country with the Premier Soccer League (PSL) expanding its reach outside of the continent.
The increased pulling power of the league has been more evident over the last 18 months with many high-profile acquisitions by the country’s leading clubs.
The most intriguing of these was the capture by SuperSport United of South African international midfielder Dean Furman, who has grabbed the chance to become part of an ambitious project at the Pretoria club.
At the age of 27, Furman is a player reaching his prime, but instead of pushing to grow his reputation in Europe, he has instead opted for a more lucrative contract in South Africa.
Furman is one of a number of players from outside of Africa that have pledged their future to the South African domestic game. What started as a trickle 18 months ago has turned into something of a rush, at two clubs at least.
The New Zealand international trio of Jeremy Brockie and Michael Boxall (both SuperSport), as well as Kris Bright (Wits) have arrived. As has Australian Isaka Cernak at SuperSport, Portuguese junior international, Jucie Lupeta, and most recently Englishman James Keene, both of whom play at Wits.
And then there is the return to the PSL of experienced defender Bongani Khumalo, to SuperSport for the first half of the season and, since January, Wits. His failure to get a work permit in England was a deciding factor, though there were other offers elsewhere in Europe.
The new arrivals have had varying degrees of success. Cernak and Bright have especially struggled to adapt to the local game, but the rest have added value to their teams.
Furman remains the most high-profile of the new arrivals though, having come through the junior ranks at English giants Chelsea, made his professional debut for top Scottish club Glasgow Rangers and captained his country at an African Nations Cup finals.
Born in Cape Town, his early years were spent in the plush surroundings of Camps Bay before his parents immigrated to England when he was five. Four years later, he was scouted by Chelsea playing for his local club and joined their academy.
His next move involved a future Liverpool manager and a Scottish great.
“I was coming to the end of my apprenticeship at Chelsea and was unsure whether I would be kept on,” says Furman. “Throughout my time at Chelsea, the youth coaches had been really supportive of me. One of them, Brendan Rodgers, had a link at Celtic, which was [former Scotland star] Tommy Burns, and so I spent a week training there.”
“After that I had a week at Glasgow Rangers as well. I really enjoyed both experiences and would have been happy to sign for either club. But Rangers moved faster I guess and I committed to them.”
Furman made his senior debut for his new club in 2008, two years after joining the club, but felt his fortunes lay in England, despite being offered a new contract by the Scottish side and after a successful loan spell at fourth-tier Bradford City, joined Oldham Athletic a division above.
He immediately hit it off with coach Paul Dickov, so much so that he was handed the captaincy of the side for the 2011/12 season, just days past his 23rd birthday, making him the youngest skipper among England’s 92 league clubs for that season.
“I think Paul Dickov could see a bit of himself in me,” says Furman.
At the end of the first season, the captain had moved on and Dickov was looking for someone else to take the leadership role.
“It was a great honor and a great responsibility for me at a young age. But I think that is just the way I am. Whether I am wearing the captain’s armband or not I try and get the best out of my teammates. It is something that comes quite naturally to me.”
A move to Doncaster Rovers would follow, initially on loan and then permanently in 2013 as Furman sought to perform at a higher level.
He did compete in the English Championship with Rovers and did not look out of place, despite their relegation in the 2013/14 season.
He turned down the offer of a new contract at the club at the end of the last campaign and had a trial with Championship club Blackburn Rovers, where he received glowing praise from the club’s management, but who ultimately opted to sign players in other positions they felt needed greater cover.
Furman had long been linked with the South African PSL ever since he made his debut for Bafana Bafana under Gordon Igesund against Brazil in 2012. Now with options to consider on the table, the best of these were from SuperSport United, a club with substantial financial backing and ambition.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, purely based on having to move to another country and the affect that would have on my girlfriend and our families,” he says.
“But [SuperSport CEO] Stan Matthews came over and outlined his vision for the club. I spoke to a lot of people about the team and the PSL and ultimately we decided to experience something new.”
Furman says he and his girlfriend have settled in well and believes there are a number of factors why the PSL is becoming a more attractive league for players from outside the continent.
“The legacy from the  World Cup has really put the spotlight on South African football. And there is some real talent over here with exciting players, so it is great to watch and be involved in. The facilities are world-class too.”
Also, there is no doubt that tougher financial conditions among European clubs means more players will be looking for opportunities outside of the continent.
“There are a lot of really good players scratching around looking for a club. Financially, teams have tightened up so good players have been released to cut wage bills and it is becoming more difficult therefore to win a good contract at a good club because there is so much competition.”
It is for that reason that Furman, while just reaching his prime as a player, is already thinking about life after retirement.
“I have got a couple of properties in the UK and am also doing my dissertation for a sports science degree. Your career ends very early in life and so you need to think about the next 50 years.”
The rude financial health of the PSL should make those 50 years easier for Furman.