Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Is BFA biting more than it can chew on football development?

BY BOTLHALE KOOTHUPILE

For the first time in a long time, the Botswana Football Association (BFA) has set its eyes firmly on developing a robust football development programme.

A quick glance at the BFA Youth Policy as drafted in September 2016 and the presentation done by the association technical director Serame Letsoaka points to a well drafted and comprehensive plan, which if followed can produce quality players for the country.

But as with everything with Botswana, when the world goes one way, Botswana takes a different route. Remember the digital migration? When countries said we move towards European platform DVB-T2, Botswana went with the Japanese Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting Terrestrial (ISDB-T) platform, and the consequences have been disastrous.

As local football embarks on its own digital migration, the BFA seems likely to take the path less taken.

While football governing bodies concern themselves with football development policy making and capacity building, leaving the actual development of players to teams or clubs, BFA is trying to undertake the development on its own.

“This is an anomaly,” one administrator said. “Of all the elite players in the world right now, show me just one who has been developed by an association. There is none,” the administrator quipped.

And indeed, as the administrator pointed out, there is something almost all familiar about the world’s current best footballers. All of them went through development .., and all of them were developed by individual clubs.

Growing up a refugee in the Croatian city of Zadar, current Ballon d’Or 2018 holder Luka Modric went through the NK Zadar football school.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who is regarded as one of the world’s best, started his football journey at CF Andorinha as an 8 year old before proceeding to CD Nacional and eventually completing his development at Sporting Lisbon.

The Sporting Lisbon academy also happens to be where Portuguese stars Nani and Louis Figo cut their teeth as aspiring youth footballers.

World cup winners with Spain Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Pedro Rodriguez, just to mention a few, are products of the famed Barcelona academy, La Masia.

‘The Farmhouse,’ as La Masia is also known, happens to be the same academy that has given the World and Argentina one of football’s all time greats, a certain Lionel Messi.

The world’s most expensive player, Neymar is a product of Santos FC Reserves and Academy, the very academy that gave the world Robinho.

Closer here in Africa, Sadio Mane, who plies his trade with Liverpool FC is a product of the Acad├®mie G├®n├®ration Foot in Senegal. The academy, which came into existence almost 19 years ago, has also produced the likes of Papiss Cisse and Diafra Sakho.

The same applies to the reining African Footballer of the year and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, who came through the Arab Contractors SC academy. The academy has also produced Arsenal’s defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny.

African stars Samuel E’too, John Obi Mikel, Peter Osaze Odemwingie, Kolo and Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, Stephane Mbia, the list is endless, all came through private or club owned academies.

“Personally, I believe that the BFA should be concerned with building capacity for clubs to undertake development. They should be concentrating on making sure there are youth policies, qualified youth coaches as well as structures to ensure that the youth from these development structures can actively put what they learn into practice by way of organising structured games,” the administrator opined.

The same sentiments are shared by the BFA TD Letsoaka, who opined that ‘the approach by the association to undertake development may not be sustainable in the long term.’

“Anywhere you go in the world, the mother body will not be able to touch all the areas. If you go to Spain, they are not able to touch all areas of Spain. If you go to England, with all the monies they have, they are not able to touch all parts of the country,” Letsoaka opined.

The BFA TD went on to explain that at the moment, the association is only laying foundations. He says in the long run, the intention is to have teams run with the development initiatives.

“But all we are saying as the BFA is that we are trying to expand as much as possible to try and help football,” he continued. “

Quizzed on whether the BFA has a time frame in which to have handed the development of players to clubs, Letsoaka had this to say; “For us this is a four year project. Within the four years, let us see what happens, what result it gives us. Is it positive or is it negative?”

While clubs are expected to have development structures as part of Club Licensing regulations, local football has failed to enforce such policies. Letsoaka is however not so concerned.

He said while the association will in future enforce the regulations, the BFA cannot do such at the moment as the association is yet to capacitate clubs to operate development structures.

Letsoaka said once the association has fulfilled its own obligations of developing policies as well as coaches, only then will it be in a good position to ‘punish clubs’ for non compliance.

Another area, which the BFA seems to be going against the norm is in its registration and affiliation policies for academies. According to the BFA Youth Policy, private football academies will be expected to pay registration and annual affiliation fees.

As per the said regulations, professional football academies shall be expected to pay P15 000 registration fee as well as P3 000 affiliation fee each season.

Semi professional academies on the other hand shall have to pay a P10 000 registration fee and a further P2 000 affiliation fee per season.

Amateur football academies will on the other hand be expected to pay a P5 000 registration fee as well as a seasonal fee of P1 000.

Quizzed on the matter, a clearly surprised Letsoaka said it will be unheard of for academies to be expected to pay the BFA such fees.

“I don’t think it will be appropriate for anybody to pay money to BFA when BFA is actually supposed to be giving out money for the development of football. It is our prerogative to make sure that we source for sponsorships so that we are able to support these programmes. But as for BFA being paid to develop players, NO!” Letsoaka said.

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