The Absa Premiership is the best league on the continent. That’s what most South Africans, and some of us in the media believe. But is it really?
There is no doubt that we have the best marketed league on the continent, and we certainly get much more TV coverage than other leagues in Africa. But the truth is, our football is simply not up to scratch, which is why we find our heads in our hands when it comes to qualifying for things. The perfect example is when two of our biggest teams, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates play together, like this past weekend.
The Soweto Derby has become nothing more than a sponsorship jamboree that boosts TV ratings. The quality of football when these two play is so poor that we always refer to the 70s, 80s, and 90s to hype it up. The reason I was able to pick out Germany as the favourite to win the World Cup a year before kick-off was that the scale of football had tipped from the big Spanish teams (Real Madrid and Barcelona), to their German counterparts (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund).
Every country needs their ‘big boys’ to perform if they are going to make an impact on the international scene. We all knew that England had no chance of winning in Brazil (despite their delusions of grandeur), and this is because as much as their league is the most watched in the world, their big teams struggle in the Champions League. They simply do not match teams like Bayern, Real, Barca, Juventus, Inter, and these days even Atletico Madrid.
If we are going to be respected again in Africa, we need Chiefs, Pirates, and Sundowns to bully the continent. That’s why I was gutted when I heard that Chiefs is “considering” playing in the CAF Champions League next year when the Confederation has just given us the nod for one more team in the competition. As much as we pride ourselves with having the “best league”, we have nothing to show for it, and we are the laughing stock of the continent with all the money we have.
To Pirates’ credit, they did put up a fight the last time they were in the tournament, and came a game shy of winning it for the second time in their history. They really worked hard to remove the stigma of SA teams being “too soft” for the unforgiving coniditions of West, middle, and North Africa. But one gets the feeling that with Chiefs’ antics, we will move two steps back.
The blame is not to be carried entirely by these teams alone. The rest of the league needs to live up to the billing. Teams like Ajax Cape Town, Free State Stars, and AmaZulu contribute a lot of players to the big Gauteng teams, and really should do better to keep their players in order to be able to compete. Imagine if all the other less fancied teams in the country performed better than they do right now.
The more glamorous ones would not be so comfortable, the competition would be better, and the standard of football would go higher. The fans would come back to the stadiums, and most importantly, our presence on the African continent would become stronger. The new Bafana Bafana coach has just been appointed, and as much as he is a fine coach, he cannot do anything if his pool of selection is not tough enough.
If our league does not pull its weight in African football, then I’m afraid his Bafana career is as ill-fated as Pitso Mosimane and Gordon Igesund’s. For as long as we as South Africans think we’re too important for Africa (as if we don’t even live there), then we might as well forget about Russia 2018 as early as now.