Connect with us

Sport

Is This Africa’s Next Star?

mm

Published

on

South African youngster Luther Singh is blazing a trail in Europe with Portuguese side Sporting Braga and has become the latest new hope for Bafana Bafana.

The versatile 20-year-old won Player of the Tournament and the top-goalscorer prize at both the regional 2016 COSAFA Under-20 Championships and continental African Youth Championships, leading to a first cap for the senior national team in March.

He followed that up with some strong showings at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea in May, and even though he did not get on the scoresheet, there was much to admire in his play, which is all about pace, skill and confidence.

The first thing that catches the eye with Singh though is his name, as Indian players have been rare at the top level in South Africa.

“My grandfather is of Indian descent, but I was born and raised in Noordgesig in Soweto,” Singh tells FORBES AFRICA.

“I come from a football family in that my father, uncles and cousins all played the game, but at a semi-pro or amateur level. I am the first to make it to the professional ranks.”

Fanon on soccer: radically anti-capitalist, anti-commercial and anti-bourgeois

Singh was earmarked for a career in the professional game at the age of 11 when he was scouted by Farouk Khan, one of the top development coaches in the country who runs the successful Stars of Africa academy in Brixton, Johannesburg.

He was playing for junior side Nazarene FC and immediately after the game, Khan approached his parents to see if they would allow him to join the academy, where players live and are schooled.

“We don’t usually take players that young in the academy, but in Luther we could see immediately that there was something else – he is the complete package,” says Khan.

“He is a wonderful player. Aside from his technical skills, he can use both feet, and is strong and quick. He is a player that has all the attributes the modern game demands.”

“What he just needs now is patience, because he is very eager to be a first team player and sometimes he can overdo the training and push himself too hard. I always tell him that with his ability, he will have a successful career, good things will come to him if he is patient.”

Singh reveals that Khan is not only his old academy coach, but also a mentor.

“He has played a huge role in my life, he is my mentor,” Singh said. “We have like a father-son relationship. He has instilled great values in me and assured me that if I work hard, good things will come my way.”

We’ll Follow The Beast To Hull And Back

While at the academy, Singh had role models such as current Bafana stars Tokelo Rantie, May Mahlangu and Sibusiso Khumalo, who at the time were also just feeling their way into the professional game.

“They were guys that I looked up to and gave me a belief in myself. If they could do it, I felt I could also. I saw the sacrifices they made and that taught me that I had to do the same.”

Another spin-off of being at the Stars of Africa academy was, through Khan’s connections, the chance to train in Brazil, where football borders on religion, at the age of 16.

“I trained at Vasco da Gama and Fluminense, two massive clubs there. It was a very good experience to see the environment, the skill of the players and how they use it, and how seriously they take being a professional and developing young players.”

Word of Singh’s ability soon got around and he had a number of suitors from South Africa’s Premier Soccer League, but Khan felt a player of his ability was ready for Europe.

It was a surprise then that he ended up in the Swedish second division with GAIS in August 2015, certainly a low-key introduction to life outside of South Africa. But that was always the plan.

“We wanted him to go somewhere where he would play professional football immediately, not for an academy side, on the bench or in the stands,” says Khan. “GAIS provided that opportunity to him and it worked wonders.”

‘I Live In Africa But My Heart Is In Anfield’

Singh scored on his league debut and it quickly became clear to the Swedes that the teenager had something special. One Swedish journalist wrote that the South African was “far too good” for the Swedish second tier, and so it proved after a first full season in 2016 when he scored 10 goals in 23 starts, despite being used, at times, as a winger.

“When I arrived I played on the right or left-wings. I am lucky in that I can use either foot,” says Singh of his time at GAIS. “I also played as a number 10, or a forward, and that move has been really good for me. But I also enjoy playing as a winger, taking players on and creating chances for teammates. I like that.”

There was a lot of interest in Singh from all over Europe by the end of 2016, including the B-side of Real Madrid in Spain.

But he chose a club where he would likely see first team football more or less from the start, and in a league where his attacking instincts were unlikely to be stifled.

Braga finished fifth in the Portuguese league at the end of 2016/17 season, and will be involved in the UEFA Europa League in the new campaign.

Singh has settled well so far, and expects to be part of the first team group in the coming season.

It has helped that he has compatriots Bongani Zungu, Thibang Phete (also a former Stars of Africa graduate) and Haashim Domingo just 20 minutes down the road at Vitoria Guimar ães.

“I didn’t know Luther before, but along with Phete, they come to my house all the time,” says Zungu.

“Luther is a nice guy, very talented. I went to watch him play for Sporting Braga B before he went to the national team [in March] and he scored. It was my first time seeing him and I was very impressed.”

“There are players that look quite small off the field, but on it they are a beast. He has that presence.”

This should be the biggest season of Singh’s career to date, and as ever he is ready to learn.

“My current club [Braga] has players from all over the world, so there are a lot of skillful players,” he says.

“My teammates are highly technical, just like myself, so I believe the club’s style of play suits me very much. Working outside your own country is never an easy thing, but one needs to always remember why you have left your country of origin.”

“I have survived because I know what my priorities are – I am playing for my family, my country and to make a name for myself.”

“Football is a job, and I am grateful that I have been able to see the world because of the beautiful game, while I am also able to provide for my family.”

If his rise continues, before long the world will be seeing him. – Written by Nick Said

Sport

African footballers are a wanted commodity but are not necessarily from the continent

mm

Published

on

By the time the mid-season transfer window closed at the end of January, an estimated 2,000 footballers used the month-long opportunity to transfer from one club to another.

It is one of the two periods in the year when clubs are allowed to buy and sell players and although not as busy as the June-August window, it is a frenetic time as clubs in the major football-playing nations look to strengthen their teams for the second half of the season.

Among the list of movements this January were a bevy of common African names: Bangoura, Boateng, Diaw, Kamara, Mendy, Owusu, Sissoko and Touré.

But while this might suggest there is a healthy exodus of Africa’s top talent to the bigger, and more lucrative leagues of Europe, it is but an illusion.

READ MORE | The Million Dollar Game

African footballers are still a wanted commodity, but not necessarily those from the continent.

Instead, it is the ever-increasing numbers from the diaspora – second- and even third-generation kids born in Europe to African parents who are prized for the physical prowess and creativity that their African genes provide, but also having had the benefit of a more formal footballing education in Europe.

France has always been the primary destination for African footballers with the top clubs long casting an eye over the best that the continent has to offer.

But while there were many African footballers moving to and from French clubs this January, not one arrived directly from an African team.

In England, Germany and Spain, none from them either. Two Belgian clubs took players from academies in Mali and Senegal but not from clubs.

Only Italy’s Atalanta spent €200,000 ($225,533) on William Tabi  from ASEC Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. His teammate in the Ivorian under-20 side, Wilfried Singo, also went from Denguélé  to Torino.

It is as if the market has dried up and a lot of it has to do with the age restrictions on player movements,” London-based agent Rob Moore tells FORBES AFRICA.

South African Moore was at the heart of the biggest move of the January transfer window as American Christian Pulisic went for some €60 million ($67.6 million) from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea.

“There is little doubt that when FIFA brought in the rule that restricted the movement of players aged 18 it put African players at a severe disadvantage,” adds Mike Makaab, whose agency has moved players to Belgium, Germany, Greece and Italy in the past.

“Clubs want younger players because they believe they can still mould them. It has been a major blow to the market although I wouldn’t be surprised if that rule is changed.

“Obviously, it would have to come with strict rules and restrictions on potential exploitation.”

But African football is about much more than only an incubator of talent. It has established competitions like the Nations Cup, Champions League and Confederation Cup, which now all enjoy fulsome coverage with matches broadcast live around the world.

“Football clubs in Europe are spoiled for choice,” Makaab adds.

“The market in Africa is competing with players from Eastern Europe, from the Americas and now increasingly Asia. There is a lot of choice.

“I find that sometimes the clubs in Africa are not realistic in their pricing of players. They want too much for players who have already established themselves, not cognisant of the fact that clubs can find similar quality elsewhere in the world.”

READ MORE | Unequal Pay for Equal Play

Moore says clubs in Africa must also realize that the increasing sophistication of football and its growing technicality demands better developed players, with physical prowess and skills now needing to be matched by decision-making and sporting intelligence.

“This is probably why now there are so many young players from the USA that are making a breakthrough in Europe. American youngsters grow up with a lot more of theory of the game than those from Africa. It’s the way they are coached at an early age.”

Historically, most transfers from Africa are from the west. Players from north and southern Africa are paid better in their domestic leagues and, therefore, tend to stay home.

“You find that South African footballers don’t really have that ambition to go overseas anymore as the money in the Premier Soccer League has improved. Once they get to the PSL, many of them tend to sit on their laurels,” laments Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter, who feels it is imperative that players move to Europe for the experience and increased competition.

Our national team is stronger if there are more players based at European clubs. I try to encourage players to get out there but not many make the move.

“The best African national sides are those with the most players at the biggest clubs. That’s the reality,”  Baxter adds.

When South Africa won the African Nations Cup title in 1996, the majority of their players were either already at European clubs, or on the brink of making the move.

Fast forward to this season and the country does not have a single player in the top leagues in England, Spain, Germany and Italy, and just a handful plying their trade in France.

It’s a fact that correlates with the downward turn in fortunes for the national team.

-Mark Gleeson

Continue Reading

Sport

The Million Dollar Game

mm

Published

on

Waves of fans poured into the FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg, in regalia rivalling the world’s most jubilant festivals, to watch South Africa’s biggest Premier Soccer League teams Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs clash it out for the Soweto Derby.

The stadium, also known as The Calabash and home to the Chiefs, seats 87,436 fans and rumbled with vuvuzelas and unbridled euphoria. The Soweto Derby is one of the most fiercely-contested matches in African football. Between the two rivals, there have been 163 past derbies‚ and of that, 67 won by Chiefs and 39 by Pirates.

However, it would seem that Pirates are making inroads to close the gap. Chiefs have not managed to claim a victory against Pirates since 2015; the equivalent of 12 matches and 1,496 long days.

READ MORE | Unequal Pay for Equal Play

In this image, fans wear the traditional team colors; gold and black for Chiefs, black and white for Pirates. They wait with bated breath and watch the players who will control the course of their destiny – for at least the next 90 minutes.

The whistle blows and the stadium roars in anticipation. This is an event that spectators and organizers alike bank on.

“Just out of this event, we are looking at just over R30 million ($2.2 million) contribution to the local economy. We are talking sales from a granny selling pap and vleis, to the guy selling merchandise and the guys helping to park cars. That’s what sports does,” says Barba Gaoganediwe, Head: Destination Promotions and Marketing for Gauteng Tourism.

Unfortunately, the match ends in a draw and neither side is pleased as they disappear into the changing rooms to plot the defeat of the other side for when they meet next.

Continue Reading

Sport

Can Football Stand On Its Own?

mm

Published

on

Some African football teams view the exorbitant cost of CAF competitions a penalty. 


In the days before commercialization, when nationalism was growing and newly, or recently, independent countries looked to make a mark, winning an African football competition carried great currency.

It also carried the financial backing of the state, oftentimes, with limitless expense as national prestige and pride were on the line.

Effectively, national teams and top clubs were able to enter and compete in continental competitions with little concern for costs.

The downside was that it also meant that football associations had no independence. Their reliance on the state coffers – meaning their business – was dictated to them by the government of the day.

That is still a factor in some African countries but these days, football seeks to stand on its own feet, assert itself and get by on its own resources – earning revenue from television rights deals, sponsorship agreements and gate takings, which are all important to fund the expense of participation.

But the reality of travel on the African continent is one of enormous expense and football clubs are increasingly wondering whether prestige and national pride is worth the end result, as they expend great fortunes on playing against the other top teams from the continent.

Some nations place more value on it than others. In the Arabic-speaking north of the continent, the long-time dominance of clubs from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia is a source of regional pride and a massive spur to remain as competitive as possible.

West African clubs still also attach a high value, but it has been years, decades even, since they were regularly among the winners. The independence of their football structures nowadays means resources are limited.

Clubs from West Africa  do well with the patronage of  benefactors as was the case with Accra’s Hearts of Oak, who were assisted by businessman Harry Zakour, in the early 2000s when they were African champions. More recently, Guinea’s Horoya, enjoys the backing of entrepreneur Antonio Souaré.

The deep pockets of mining magnate Patrice Motsepe allow Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa to consistently win domestic success and qualify for the African Champions League as a result… and be competitive. He has pumped an estimated R200-million ($14.4-million) into the club over the last decade and encouraged his coachers to chase African success.

But this is not the attitude of most South African clubs, who largely see competition north of their border, such as the Champions League and the Confederation Cup, as a bothersome exercise. They participate with clenched teeth as if carrying out a chore they have to complete but want to dispense with as quickly as possible.

There is a two-fold reason for this. The distraction from domestic competition that remains a priority for insular-thinking South African clubs and the exorbitant cost of participation in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) competitions. “It is money that, quite frankly, would be better spent strengthening our squad with more players,” says a candid Ari Efstathiou, the Ajax Cape Town owner who says it costs anything between R250,000 to R750,000 ($18,000 to $54,000) per game in African competition.

His side are now relegated but just two seasons ago were competing in the African Confederation Cup.

“Of course, it is an honor to be able to represent the country but in the long run, unless you actually win the trophy, it is a big financial burden and there is not much to show for it at the end.”

Travel in Africa is exorbitantly expensive and when you are forced to move a squad of some 30 players, coaches and support staff around the continent, it quickly adds up into a massive bill.

Rarely are flights direct, with many clubs using hubs like Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Dubai and Doha to move from one side of the continent to the next.

The game costs are made up of travel, match-day security, hotels, ground transport and paying for the referees. In a bizarre system, open to much abuse, CAF forced the home club to pay for the flights and the daily allowances of the referees but have since taken up much of their bill themselves.

There is still a fulsome entry list each year for the two annual CAF club competitions and the controlling body will point to an almost 100%  success rate in the fulfilment of fixtures.

But there is a growing sense that changes are needed to make the competition more viable, otherwise they face a slow demise. -Mark Gleeson

Continue Reading

Trending