There has been an endless debate on what is the foundation of having a strong senior national team in developing countries i.e Africa, Asia and South America.

There has been an endless debate on what is the foundation of having a strong senior national team in developing countries i.e Africa, Asia and South America.

The debate has seen some proponents speaking of the need to put football development and infrastructure in place on one hand while others talk of having players in competitive European leagues as the fundamental basis for having a winning national team.

The old basis of the strongest teams generally whether in Asia, Latin America or Africa, have been and still remain national teams with the majority of key players plying their trade in top European clubs.

I will delve much on the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon to see the number of players who come from European teams which still serves as a basis for success in the 2017 AFCON tournament. Countries whose players are plying their trade in Europe:

Burkina Faso 20 in Europe 2 local based players
Cameroon 21 2
Guinea Bissau 23 0
Gabon 19 4
Algeria 17 6
Tunisia 15 8
Senegal 23 0
Zimbabwe 4 + 11 in SA 8
Ivory Coast 22 1
DR Congo 20 3
Morocco 20 3
Togo 18 5
Ghana 23 0
Mali 20 3
Egypt 8 15
Uganda 1 22

Fact is that the majority of the teams that got knocked out in the first round are those with the lowest number of players who play in Europe and the favorites to win the tournament Ghana and Senegal have the highest number of players from Europe in their squads. Both Uganda and Zimbabwe have 1 and 4 players in Europe respectively.

On the other end, Guinea Bissau with no player from their own country or league qualified for AFCON 2017. This clearly shows that qualification and performance of most of these countries is not necessarily a result of internal domestic development plan or a strong domestic professional league but mostly by players who leave the country to play or are recruited on the basis of parents from the country of origin to Europe.

It has also become a norm that many African countries in a bid to do well on international stage, recruit players with parents from the country of origin the mother, father or both to play for them.

Issues of the country’s economic prowess or infrastructure are important but do not automatically guarantee international football success. Otherwise the countries with the biggest economies and biggest population would have won the World Cup i.e. China, USA or India.

We must ensure sustainable success on the basis of a strong development plan, adequate resources for development, and international participation for our youth, strong technical leadership, strong women teams and a strong domestic professional league.

The clubs however, must release talented young players for junior competitions to excellerate the development path of these young players. The Ayew brothers participated in all Ghana youth matches and went through all national teams structures.

SAFA’s Vision 2022 is clear. The sustainable international success can be built on the basis of the success of junior teams and a strong development drive.

The National Academy is the centrepiece of this strategy.

However, in the last Bafana Bafana match against Senegal, we only had Thulani Serero and Andile Jali in the starting line up from renowned European sides.

So is Bafana Bafana following a different path for success on the continent? Is it a good approach to ignore our players in Europe?

African successful team has a direct link with the number of players from Europe in their teams. The recent 2017 AFCON seems to emphasize that European-based players guarantee success.

Is the lack of success by Bafana Bafana at major international tournaments mirrored by the decline in the number of South African players in Europe?

Must we work harder in development or harder in getting more and more players to top European leagues?

Let us look at the most successful Bafana era.

In 1996 and 1998 AFCON and FIFA World Cup squad, these were key players for Bafana Bafana:

Andre Arendse (Fulham, England), Sizwe Motaung (Tenerife, Spain), Lucas Radebe (Leeds, England), Mark Fish (Bolton, England) , David Nyathi (Tenerife, Spain), Eric Tinkler (Barnsley, England), Phil Masinga (Bari, Italy), Shaun Bartlett (Bolton, England), Benni McCarthy (Celta Vigo, Spain/Porto, Portugal), Quinton Fortune (Manchester United, England), Mark Williams, Neil Tovey, Doctor Khumalo (Chiefs), Shoes Moshoeu, Helman Mkhalele (Turkey).

We must continue to pursue international success on the basis of building development structures, academies, leagues, train coaches, strong competitions and international participation for all our teams. Success will then be sustained!