Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor—
SOUTH Africa’s Premiership might be the hub in which Zimbabwe’s best players yearn to play, but the Supa Diski has been slammed for its declining standards that are now impacting on the two countries’ national teams. There have been debates on whether the league that our top players call their haven is the best they could feature in and whether it was adding value to the Warriors‘ cause. Although it offers a window for better pastures for the majority of the domestic Premiership players, it is the quality of the competition in the South African elite league that has often been questioned.
Those fighting in Supa Diski’s corner have argued that the fact that their giants Mamelodi Sundowns won the 2016 Champions League was testimony of the healthy state of the ABSA top-flight.
But this week, South African football came under the spotlight once again, with one of the longest-serving expatriate coaches Muhsin Ertugral slamming the declining standards of the league that is home to such key Warriors players like Khama Billiat, George Chigova and Willard Katsande who captained the senior team to the 2017 African Cup of Nations.
Ertugral — who has had an on-off relationship with South African football — is back in the country and now in charge of modest outfit Ajax Cape Town that recently signed the Zimbabwe duo of midfielder Gerald Takwara and striker Ndoro.
The Turkish mentor told a Press conference in Cape Town after his team’s 2-1 defeat by Mamelodi Sundowns in a midweek league clash that he believes the current state of South African football is getting progressively worse. Ertugral first arrived in South Africa in 1999 when he was entrusted with mentoring Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs and coached former Warriors midfielder Tinashe Nengomasha and winger Kelvin Mushangazhike at Amakhosi.
In what would become an on-and-off 20-year relationship with South African clubs, Ertugral went on to guide other Absa Premiership teams including Santos, Golden Arrows and Orlando Pirates. But in what was an honest post-match Press conference after the Urban Warriors’ loss to Mamelodi Sundowns earlier this week, Ertugral said he believed football in the Absa Premiership is not getting any better.
“In that side in Europe, it’s a different world out there. When I came first in 1999 to this country (SA), it was totally different football that was played. So, it’s getting more worse,” Ertugral said. I feel like sometimes coming back here it’s like the highways, you can’t follow the cars. Precision is more important. Players are getting so much money in this country they don’t know what to do with it. And they want to play in Europe, who is going to take you there?”
Ertugral explained how he helped former Cape Town City captain Lebogang Manyama get signed by Turkish side Konyaspor and revealed how the 26-year-old has been struggling to get game time. “The best player Lebo Manyama which I have put in Turkey, to Konyaspor, a great team in Turkey which are not doing very well and he’s not considered to be on the bench,” said Ertugral.
“The coach tells me, ‘What is this’? Guys, out there is not easy, tell me one South African player that plays in the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italy or in the German Bundesliga — we need to ask ourselves why not? In the 90s I don’t know how many? These are questions that need to be asked.”
Ertugral did offer some advice as to how to curb the problem. “I’m still on the FIFA technical committee and that’s what we are discussing every time,” the 58-year-old continued. In the end, what we are going to present to the coaches that they are going to do? In South Africa, it’s like you’re going to the primary school, to the university. I just spoke to a friend of mine from Freiburg, he’s the head of the academy at Freiburg. He said to me once a week the players must do a presentation on a topic.
“We can hardly talk to our (South African) players, they just listen. They don’t give feedback because they’ve been suppressed, and that’s what the problem is. It’s important to me that they need to talk, they need to be open because when the whistle blows, they need to play. They don’t want to talk to you guys (media), these elements, they need to be a little more educated and that’s our problem, the coaches’ problem.”
Ertugral received the backing of ZIFA technical director Wilson Mutekede on his evaluation of the South African game. Mutekede, who is spearheading ZIFA’s development programmes expressed concern that most of the players who had shown potential in Zimbabwe had become content with just securing a contract in the Super Diski.
The former Twalumba and Shabanie Mine coach said the fact that local players saw the Absa Premiership as their ceiling meant that the Warriors would always be exposed when they faced continental heavyweights like Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Egypt or Algeria at such stages like African Cup of Nations tournament.
Mutekede also reflected on how the Warriors were badly exposed during the 2017 African Cup of Nations in Gabon when drawn against the likes of Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal, the bulk of whose players ply their trade in the European leagues. “Having heard what Muhsin said I must say although it might have appeared a mouthful, I subscribe to most of what he said.
“When you are a coach you need problem solvers on the field of play and we don’t seem to see a lot of that in our players because they do not communicate as much as is needed. During my time at Twalumba we would place the players in groups every Monday to review our previous games and get them to give their own input,” Mutekede said.
Mutekede said it was saddening that the tough operating environment in the country had also contributed to the wrong mindset by local players who are just content with earning better salaries in South Africa. “There is an element of contentment than the hunger to do more on the field of play. When somebody goes to South Africa the dream to do more fades away and the hunger to go and play in Europe is lost in the bright lights of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria.
“We also have a challenge where South Africa is quickly plucking some budding players from here before they have even advanced their careers. While we always live for money the duty of coaches should also be to educate players. We should also look at aiming for the bigger picture and Muhsin’s comments should be taken as an eye opener although some pundits might not agree with him,’’ Mutekede said.
Mutekede had a chance to briefly work with the Warriors for two international friendly matches last November and the former CAPS United team manager warned that as long as Zimbabwe and South Africa do not have enough numbers in the world’s top five leagues the two countries would continue to struggle in Nations Cup and World Cup assignments.
“Our best players are playing against Baroka and Free State Stars yet the likes of Riyadh Mahrez, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are playing against top quality opposition at high intensity every week and that gulf then shows when it comes to the World Cup qualifiers or AFCON.
“For me players like Thomas Chideu (Golden Arrows) and Prince Dube (SuperSport United) were flowers that were plucked by South Africa before they even turned into fruits and we are almost guaranteed that their next destination is a flight back home because as long as someone like Prince is getting paid well he might not have the hunger to play or even further his career in a bigger league,” Mutekede said.