Thursday, February 9, 2023

Time for BFA, BFL to step up to the plate

Painful lessons should surely be learnt from local girls’ 5 – 0 drubbing by Zambia during the opening match of the AUSC Region 5 COSAFA under 17 Girls’ Championships 2022 in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Like lambs to the slaughter, Botswana girls showed no fight against their agemates. They were outrun, out played, out witted and outscored. Given the number of missed chances by Zambia and the disallowed goal, 5 – 0 loss looks a result of mercy. It could have been worse.

Technically and tactically, the local girls were found wanting. Basic skills like receiving, shooting, dribbling and passing had deserted them. Here and there in the morass that was in Lilongwe, there were however glimpses of abundance of talent.

“These are some of the problems we face as coaches, even at national team level,” one coach says. “You find that our players, while having skill and talent, are struggling with some basic things, more especially decision making,” he says.

He goes on to say that the country needs to invest a lot in coaches for grassroots development. This is even more imperative in this time when school sport is no longer there and school centres of excellences are non-functional. “We are still lagging way behind in terms of grassroots development of football,” he says.     

For Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Botswana Football League (BFL), this should be a source for concern. The BFA as the body concerned with grassroots development, the hub of production of quality players. The BFL as the biggest consumer of this talent and the feeder of senior national teams.

Luckily for both the BFA and BFL, all these defeats come at a time of the ongoing World Cup in Qatar. Now more than ever, maybe it is time for the head honchos at both these to take their pens and take notes from others who have been here before.

and who better to take a leaf from than the Football Association (the FA), the English Premier League (EPL) and the English Football League (EFL) in England. Or what about Japan Football Association (JFA) and its Japan Football League?  

England’s watershed moment came when its so called ‘Golden Generation’ failed to make a mark at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. After scraping out of the group stages, they were thrashed 1 – 4 by Germany in the last of 16 and dumped out. This was a team composed of the acclaimed best in the world. It had the likes of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerard, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, just to mention but a few.

The penny had finally dropped. The FA and the EPL finally realized they were far behind their fellow European counterparts like Spain and Germany. They realized their players were technically inferior. The EPL, working with the FA set about correcting this anomaly. The aftermath was the birth of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) which was unrolled in 2012.

Ten years later, players borne from the EPPP are making the core of the current England national team. These include Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho among others. Some of them have already played in the finals of the UEFA EURO 2020 which they lost to Italy through penalties.

Japan on the other hand took a different and long route to where it is right now. In 1992, Japan embarked on a 100 year long term plan to win the world cup by 2092. To get there, they sought to have a very competitive league which would produce stars playing outside its borders by 2030. Today, the JFL is one of the best in Asia and the world. As of now, more than 70 percent of the current Japanese team causing a stir at the ongoing world cup are playing outside Japan.

Commenting on this, the coach says local talent needs to be exposed to as much competition as possible. “The main difference here between us and the countries we compete with is the exposure to training and competition. Our players need to compete regularly to help them develop,” he says.

Not surprisingly, this was one of the major discoveries on why English players were lagging behind their fellow Europeans in terms of development. The FA, EPL and EFL discovered that the hours young talent was exposed to training by qualified coaches was not adequate. This has now changed.

More qualified coaches have been trained and young talent is continuously trained by these. The result has seen England produce quality and technically good players for both its professional domestic leagues and for export. Whatever happens, faced with the current failures by national teams, bar ‘The Mares,’ there is need for introspection from both the BFA and BFL. Whatever decisions they make will determine whether we can have the best competitive leagues and national teams.

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