England are on the verge of failing to qualify for the 2008 European championships; neighbours South Africa are also on a downward spiral and are no longer a force to reckon with in Africa. The dismal performance of both countries has sparked a row over the influx of foreign players in other countries.
Since English leagues are lucrative, foreign players are even descending into the lower leagues. The two countries are calling for the reduction in the numbers of the foreign players in each team. Even FIFA President, Joseph Sepp Blatter, supports the move which he says would encourage home grown players. He believes that the invasion of foreign players takes football development steps backwards in the affected countries. In North Africa, countries such as Tunisia have also put restrictions on the goalkeeping department. Currently, all goalkeepers are locals and all foreigners have been ordered to leave the country once their contracts are over. Ivory Coast first choice goalkeeper, Jean-Jacques Tizie, was one of the affected players. Even in Botswana there are many foreign players and Botswana is yet to make a meaningful impact in international competitions. Some soccer pundits say it is because of the foreign influx of players.
Some experts also say the reason Botswana does not have powerful home grown strikers is because their positions are taken by foreigners. Even supporters normally go to the extent of saying that ‘a team without a foreign player is not worth winning anything.’ Just from the early nineties, when top teams like Lobtrans Gunners, won the league for three consecutive years and Rollers won the lucrative Coca-Cola Cup three times in four years, foreigners were calling the shots. Gunners had the likes of Kennedy Computer Jerry, Francis Chisenga, Edison Mulubwa and Francis Chisala. Rollers, on the other hand, had all time danger man, the late, Joseph Chikoti (May his soul rest in peace), Owen Mbewe, Moses Siame, Dennis Kabwe, and Webster Kurwaisimba. Even though Gaborone United was eluded by major trophies, they won what ever other teams missed out on and were even codenamed ‘the money machine.’ GU’s first line up was commanded by Zimbabweans, Marko Tshuma and Mandla ‘Enkosi’ Balandla.
After that, when the fort was taken by institutional teams such as BDF XI and Mogoditshane Fighters, their target men were also foreigners. Even to date, local teams have many foreigners, especially in the striking department. Rollers have Bernard Simakwenzi upfront assisted by his fellow Zambian compatriot, Patrick Kasongo, in the midfield. Rollers are also on the verge of signing another international from Burundi to bolster the midfield.
Log leaders, Mochudi Centre Chiefs, also have foreigners who lead the onslaught. They have the likes of Nicholas Gora and Aaron Kale. The technical officer of the Botswana Football Association, Losika Keatlholetswe, opines that the current foreign quota is good for the country. He said unlike in developed countries like England, Botswana did not open up because only three foreigners are allowed to play. “In England, a team can have a starting line up made up of foreigners. This is something Arsenal has been doing for some time. In Botswana, a team can register many foreigners but only three are allowed to play at one given time. We are very fortunate here and I think the system is working well for us,” he said. Keatlholetswe’s concern is the quality of the foreign players in Botswana. He said most foreign players are not of quality but are mediocre. He said that does not add value to the local soccer.
“You will find out that most of such players are strikers and occupy positions that would otherwise be occupied by local players. This eventually affects the performance of the national team. We need strikers who can teach us something not those who just make up numbers and expect to learn from our fellow players,” he said.
Currently, the national teams are in dire need of good strikers. The only local striker who has made his name is Diphetogo Selolwane because he managed to break into professional ranks. Most of the available ones need a lot of polishing up; they miss many chances they should otherwise convert into scores. Even the national Under 23 team, which shows signs of improvement with every game, still struggles with strikers and when the available few are not around, it is usually a disaster.