Sunday, February 5, 2023

As BNSC, BFA leadership lounges in Qatar

About a decade ago, Morocco and Botswana football national teams met in an international friendly. 

At the time, the current World Cup quarter finalists drew 1 all with the Zebras as they prepared for Afcon final qualifiers.  The final score line confirms that Botswana lads were punching within their weight.

This was a golden era for Botswana’s national football team. A year later, Botswana made history as they competed at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. They qualified ahead of Tunisia, Malawi, Togo and Chad for their first, and so far only, Nations Cup finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Eleven (11) years later, the Zebras and the Morocco football teams have followed different trajectories. This past Saturday, Morocco played in the third position playoff against Croatia in the FIFA World Cup. The Moroccans have dazzled at the World cup, sending records tumbling along the way.

For some like us in Botswana watching on the silver screen, we will perhaps be left wondering if we will ever produce such talent within our shores. Wondering if we will ever have our own equivalent of Achraf Hakimi, Azzedine Ounahi, Nayef Aguerd or Youseff En-Nesyri.

The truth is we will never have a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo. We can however produce our own stars here. We may be able to ensure our next Mogakolodi Ngele, Segolame Boy, Thero Setsile or Omphile Vissagie reach the world stratosphere.

As this World Cup has shown, the process takes time. Star athletes are not made by chance or luck. As its always said, the development of athlete to reach such dizzying heights of excellence takes more than 10 years. This is a decade of expert training, development and passion.

This means more time in training and development. Swedish researcher Anders Ericsson states that it takes 10 000 hours (10 years) of practice for any person to reach an expert level in any field they want to excel. Practice alone however may not be enough. There also needs to be expert coaching and investment in world class facilities. This is the route Morocco took.

In 2009, Morocco, with the help of King Mohammed VI opened the Mohammed VI Football Academy. It also had satellite feeder academies. The intent was to transform the Moroccan football and produce world class players. As one would expect, these facilities have highly qualified coaches to mentor the young talent.

Fast forward here to 2022, some of the products of the academy like Ounahi, Aguerd and En-Nesyri helped Morocco shine at the World Cup. Elsewhere, their senior women’s team has also qualified for the women’s World Cup due next year. With more players, both male and female expected to come through its doors, Morocco is on the verge of being a powerhouse.

They have taken a path to success. A path followed by the best in the world like France. In France, development starts at an early age before the best talent is taken to academies. These academies are public, this is, they are paid for by public funds. 

The current poster boy of French football Kyllian Mbappe came through this system. He started his training at AS Bondy while aged six years. He would later move to the famed Clairefontaine academy, the same academy that has produced the likes of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Olivier Giroud, William Gallas, Blaise Matuidi and many others.

In a country like Botswana however, this setup may for a moment  look like a pipe dream. Despite drafting a Botswana long term athlete development plan (BLTAD) with the help of Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) in 2016, the country still relies on school sports. As recent results have shown however, this may not be enough.

Even when school sport is functional, which it is not at the moment, it only exists for a single term. This means football is played during the ball sports term only. In the end, aspiring talent will not have put in the hours needed to fully develop and blossom. This on its own is an inadequacy.

If the BFA followed its own BLTAD, it would mean young footballers will put in the needed hours to develop.  This however is not the case. The BLTAD is now a relic while the association runs with youth football festivals which comes once or twice a year and last a week each at most.

At professional league level, player development looks like an abomination. Here, clubs are only interested at players who are already past their mid-teens. Most of these players, though they may be talented, would have missed the critical discovery phase and skill acquisition phase at Under 9 and Under 13 respectively. The end is a production of technically deficient players who never get to really exploit their talent.

Now as both the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) and the BFA leadership continue to enjoy a World Cup sojourn in Qatar, one can only hope lessons are being learnt. They should come emboldened to seriously pursue a focused development model for Botswana’s talent.

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