Head coach of the South African Boys u17 National Team, Molefi Ntseki, says South Africa needs to focus more on the grassroots programmes so we can produce more and greater players.

Head coach of the South African Boys u17 National Team, Molefi Ntseki, says South Africa needs to focus more on the grassroots programmes so we can produce more and greater players

Amajimbos recently returned from Goa, India where they finished in second place behind Brazil.

South Africa won two, drew one and lost two – both to Brazil.

SAFA Media sat down with him to hear his thoughts on what lies ahead or what should be happening so that our teams perform well.

Matlhomola Morake:​In your assessment, where lies the challenge for our football?

Molefi Ntseki:​The most important thing is the programme we have at SAFA – the Grassroots programme aimed at kids between the ages of 6 and 12. I think if we do it properly within that period of development we can use it to recruit more football players into the programme – it should be a marketing tool for football because in recent times football is no longer thé sport for every South African kid. There are other sporting codes and other activities that are competing in the same space as football.

So then what needs to be done? What is the solution?

If we can have more of those grassroots programmes running throughout the country, we would then be able to create interest for kids of that group to play the game because it is a game that involves a lot of fun and at the same time it is educative. They will go through different aspects like agility, balance or coordination. But the most important element is the fun part of it, and through that, kids will always learn to love the game – and that in a way is recruitment. During that time we will be able to identify talent from an early age.

Once talent has been identified, what next?

When that child graduates from that programme, the ideal situation is to get the child into a formal, proper, training and coaching programme where we are going to say the curriculum for the child who is u12 playing in an u13 competition, we expect to see these outcomes. We will also do the same with the next phase of the kid of u14 playing in u15, and we also set the outcomes – we need to say this is the yardstick we are using, whether it is tactical, technical, mental, physical or social. We need to ensure they are ready when they get to the last phaseh4 of development, which is u17 because this is the performance-based phase of development.

​So what happens during this phase that is different from the other phases?

At this level you have to play games to win, you have to be able to compete, you have to be strong mentally, you have to execute a high level of technical ability and tactical discipline. At the same time, the physical aspect, the fine motor qualities, the complex motor qualities of an u17 player should be executed to a level where a child will be able to compete for four matches, or be able to compete in the fifth match (like the competition we are from now) without any discomfort. It means the physical aspect development of these players should be in such a way that he will be able to play four 90 minutes without breaking, or five 90 minutes matches without slowing down.

And what is the status quo with our players?

Unfortunately, at the moment we have a situation where most of our players are not developed in totality in terms of the five pillars of development – technical, tactical, physical, mental and social – it is only in such tournaments that you notice that these are the areas the boys are lacking in. That is why you found players breaking down during the most important moments of the game – when in possession or out of possession, or during the critical phases of the game like during the first or last 15 minutes of each half. Our programme doesn’t address those phases of development in such a way that when a player gets to u17 he is able to compete with the understanding that we are competing to win. The football game as a whole has so many challenges and all of them have to be worked on, trained and coached so that a player can have an understanding and is able to execute. They should also have a high level of mental strength so that they can compete to win, and at the end of the day you get to a final and come out victorious.

How is it done in other countries?

From the interactions and discussions I had with Brazil coaches in India, as well as with the Belgium coaches at the FIFA u17 World Cup draw in Chile last year, they are working on a six year programme which has the u12 coming from the grassroots programme, then the first two years they have a programme, a curriculum for kids who are under 12 – and they will do the same with the u14 and u16. In our case we have a situation where you select players from a provincial tournament and after the selection they go back to their clubs or academies and you will only see them when they come for a particular tournament where you have to bring the team together and address all the five aspects I spoke about, and then off you go to a tournament – and more often than not, the results will always be the same, not good. The tournament has its own demands like pressure situations that demand players to be at a level where they can be able to overcome those challenges. So when you go into a tournament and don’t win it, you come back with players who feel down, and start doubting themselves because they are not used to this type of football.

​What are some of those challenges, especially for your team?

As I mentioned we don’t have these players all the time. When you meet, you go and play in the CAF AYC qualifiers where you face countries that have been preparing for no less than two years. The team doesn’t perform well because preparation was not enough. Players go back to their clubs and academies and then return for the BRICS tournament where you have to assemble nearly another team. The likes of Brazil keep the core of the team throughout and they have tutors accompanying the team in camp.

So how do they get it right?

They have regional, provincial and national academies, so talent is identified according to the style of that country. In our case, we have talented players but if we can have those systems in place it will be very easy for a national team coach to bring players into camp and work on the tactics mainly, before going into a tournament. In our case, we have to work on all the aspects but within a very short space of time and in the end you have to compete and win.

That must be difficult for coaches…

Absolutely, at times such things make life difficult for us coaches at this level, because we don’t have any formal source in terms of talent, we don’t have a pool where we say these are the talented players who have gone through proper coaching and training and they can play a particular style that will suit the national team. The reality of our situation is that we are dealing with kids that are 16 years and younger, and when they come to the national team for the first time they still have to adapt to a number of things because of the diversity that we have in our country. You have a player coming from Cape Town and they behave differently from a player that stays in Johannesburg, a player from KZN is different from a player that grew up in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Free State and North West – these are the challenges we have.

And that is where those provincial and national academies come in?

Oh yes, I believe the solution lies in those provincial and national academies as they will help us to have an identity as a country so that we have a particular style of play. This will make life much easier for the national team coaches when the players report for camps and we then have to focus mainly on tactics. This will help our players develop quicker and in such a way we are able to fast track some of them to the senior teams because they are almost ready for top level football. At the moment we are still bogged down by focusing on things that should have been done in earlier stages of development. In short we need a national selection panel formed by elite youth coaches from all provinces in academies and clubs. This is a long-term plan but it will bring us positive results without doubt.

Going back to the BRICS u17 Football Cup, what was your impression of the tournament?

Firstly it was a very good tournament, and it was important for us as a country to honour this tournament. It was also key for our players to participate, which I think helped with the growth of the players mentally, and the experience of playing in a tournament.


  • The BRICS u17 Football Tournament featured the five BRICS countries – economic block formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa
  • Amajimbos scored a total of five goals and conceded nine in five matches
  • Brazil hit the back of the net 15 times and let in just two goals, (both from South Africa and India)
  • Ntseki’s charges opened the tournament with a 1-0 win over hosts India, followed by a goalless draw against China
  • They lost 3-0 to Brazil, but bounced back to defeat Russia 3-1 and booked their place in the final, which they lost 5-1 to Brazil
  • Russia took third place, with China and India finishing in fourth and fifth place respectively.
  • The tournament will be played annually
  • Each edition will be hosted by one of the BRICS nations
  • The 2016 edition was also seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2017 FIFA u17 World Cup which will be hosted by India from September – October 2017