11 December 2017 – John “Shoes” Moshoeu (Ga-Mashashane) and Andile Jali (Matatiele) – two stars who came from rural beginnings and went on to play for the national team.

Both players seemed to be tougher and hungrier than most as their disadvantaged backgrounds set them apart on their road to success.

It begs the question – what would happen if players of this calibre were ‘lost’ in the system and never discovered? Is it feasible to unearth every single talented youngster or schoolboy, particularly those in far-reaching areas? What measures need to be put into place by the national footballing body? Just how important is such an initiative to any football mad country and does the answer lie in scouting systems and local clubs?

These are just a few questions that need answering as I delve deeper into the topic. When one considers that rich and famous stars such as Neymar, Ronaldo and Louis Suarez came from poor, humble and far-reaching areas of their respective countries, it is a topic that is indeed relevant anywhere in the world.

To answer the first question posed, no it is not feasible to unearth every single talented youngster as rural areas, particularly across South Africa, are so vast that the odd talent is bound to be missed. This unfortunate fact can however be counter-balanced by finding as many other skilful prodigies as possible. For every potential star missed there needs to be at least ten found. This is the best method of increasing talent pools and grooming boys from the youngest possible age all the way to professional levels.

This alludes to my next point of putting measures in place to ensure that the sustained success of tapping into the vast resources and dormant raw talent that is available in remote areas. Specific and well thought-out systems, scouting programmes (via clubs in association with national bodies), league and cup events, special projects, free coaching clinics (acquiring the services of former players and coaches), competitions, open day trials, bursary initiatives, free equipment (getting sponsors on board) building of pitches (and general relevant infrastructure) and Corporate Social Investment (CSI), all play a massive and holistic role here, in ensuring success.

All of the above should be the responsibility of the national football body and with the South African Football Association’s (SAFA) concerted efforts and investment into rural football, this does seem to be a priority and steadily taking shape. The SAFA/Transnet-Football School of Excellence was established in 1994. The school identifies talented young football players from rural and underprivileged communities and prepares them for a professional career in football. Steven Pienaar, Bernard Parker, Daine Klate and Bryce Moon are all products of the programme.

“We are getting good education and enough time to study. Our academic record is comparable with that of some of the best schools in the country. Being in the school will help me achieve good passes at high school, while also nurturing me for a professional football career”, stated Baxolele – a Grade 11 student on the sporting as well as academic aspects of the school.

Why is unearthing rural talent this important though and why do such measures need to be put into place and breeding schools built?

By investing into such a project, not only does the country’s football benefit by gaining more depth and unique talents, but it also helps uplift the very communities from which those players came from. It goes a long way to enriching lives and improving the socio-economic standards of those communities while providing hope where previously there was none. People and other aspiring youngsters will then have someone to look up to. The star unearthed will most likely give back and invest even more into his/her community with his new-found financial standing (perhaps in non-football investments such as the building of hospitals) and much more.

The more effort placed into rural football development, anywhere in the world, the better the health of the world game itself.

By: Dhirshan Gobind