The strength of a league is often assessed by how many of the home-grown players have gone on to play for the national side. But for smaller footballing nations such as South Africa, a measure of the strength and talent within the league is assessed by how many players go on to have success in bigger, stronger leagues in Europe.
South Africa is a country known for many things sporting, most notably its rugby and cricket teams. However, thanks to the recent success of the 2010 World Cup, interest has grown in its third sport, football. A number of players recently plying their trade in the South African domestic league have been snapped up by big European clubs.
Now, South Africans playing for European clubs isn’t a rare thing, in fact, one of the finest Premiership defenders of the 1990s was a South African (Lucas Radebe), and a number of his national colleagues have represented Premier league sides, including Mark Fish and Shaun Bartlett (who both had spells at Charlton) and Benni McCarthy.
More recently, players such as Steven Pienaar have attracted big attention for clubs. Pienaar was recently the man in the centre of a tug of war between Chelsea and Tottenham, with the latter side winning.
Tottenham are one of the top employers of South African talent, having two national-side players, Pienaar and Khumalo, on their books. The London side have recently showed an interest in the future talent that may be coming out of South Africa, having undergone a preseason tour of the African country and playing several of the nation’s top sides.
Dutch side Ajax are another investor of South African talent and recently signed striker Thulani Caleeb Serero from the club Ajax Cape Town. Serero scored his first goal for the club in a 3-0 win against Danish side Brondy and went on to create two goals in a 5-1 win against Club Atletico Independiente.
The coaching staff at Ajax hold the 21-year-old in high esteem. Coach Frank de Boer has said, “Serero is a player with talent dripping off him. He is incredibly quick and a very clever player.”
Many South African football fans will see this ringing endorsement but still remain cautious, as players such as Bongani Khumalo and Kagisho Dikgacoi have been signed and then immediately loaned out to clubs in lower divisions. But even the clubs in the lower divisions of the English football league have better facilities and a higher level of competition than their counterparts in South Africa, so it can only serve to improve the skill level and fitness of South African players who are loaned out to them.
In the long run, this can only be of benefit to Bafana Bafana.