As the new football season is about to start next month, I have always found the humour in the irony of the month of August marking the last month of the African calendar, being the opening month of the season. For those who may not be aware, the month of September is the first month of the African calendar and the naming of the months follows the observed behaviour of climatic conditions.
For example, as the rainy season starts it is said that “the clouds look sick with the rain” at this time. Therefore in Tswana the month of September is referred to as “Lwetse” (gonne maru a lwala pula). And then, the rains fall and fill up the rivers (which would have dried up in the winter) making it easier for antelopes to find drinking water to quench their thirst from the beating sun as temperatures rise with the approaching summer. Because of that, the month of October is called “Diphalane” (gonne diphala dinwa metsi modinokeng). The name for November “Ngwanaitsele” has to do with the abundance in summer fruits, while the name for December “Sedimonthole” has to do with the harvest.
My interest in African etymology has always been sparked by the descriptive nature of African languages. Even when it comes to the giving of birth names, the meaning of which is often crafted to describe the circumstances of a child’s birth.
For example when someone’s birth coincided with the tragic passing in the family, it is quite common to see such a person named “Sello” – translated “a weeping” – especially if such a child is a boy. In fact, a good friend of mine Sello, serendipitously met his soulmate named Matshidiso – translated “condolences.” They are now married for 20 years, three kids, match made in heaven. #AdmirationMuch
Anyway, what does this have to do with sports? Not much. Only that names and the origins are something that tends to catch my attention fairly frequently, and my curiosity in this regard is insatiable. So you can imagine the flippancy with which someone like me watches a tournaments like the EURO CUP 2016. Because names that don’t quite look right on the country’s team sheet stick out like a sore thumb, to someone like me.
For example, Theodor Gebre Selassie is a Czech defender who plays for German club Werder Bremen and the Czech Republic national football team. His name Gebre Selassie, instantly points to an Ethiopian linage. He was born to an Ethiopian father who worked in the former Czechoslovakia as a doctor. His mother, Jana, is Czech and a schoolteacher. Gebre Selassie has a younger sister named Anna, who plays for the Czech Republic women’s national handball team. So be sure to look out for that name at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Now one name here and there, makes sense. Life happens, right?
But then you get countries like Germany, with names like Boateng (Ghanaian), Mustafi (Albanian), Khedira (Tunisian), Özil (Turkish), Gomez (Spanish), Cacau (Brazilian), Klose and Podolski (Polish). In fact one of my favourite things to do before the start of a German fixture is to sit there and try and guess the number of players who bear actual German names in the first eleven, and then if I am wrong, I have to drink a shot of tequila for every player with a non-German last name in the team. I call it “spot the German.” I tried it with France once, and it was after I only made it home thanks to Uber that I realized that I need to stop, lest the game be the start of a habit which needs a twelve step program and lots of group therapy to get rid of.
Now I am under no illusion that one of these days, you will have a Thabang Okocha playing centre half for Bafana Bafana. Or an Asamoa Aphane playing left back for Orlando Pirates. It is inevitable, it will come. In fact just last week I was helped by a Tendai Kgapola at the bank. I did not get the chance to ask him about his name, but Tendai is a Shona name, while Kgapola is of North Sotho origin.
But the stone in my shoe is this. How is it possible that a country that makes it a licensing requirement that every club playing in their league must have an operating development academy in place, ends up with a national team that has enough players to make up a whole season of Khumbul’ekhaya?
Or is this yet another example of how club based development structures simply do not work. Because if they did work, German clubs would find German players to play German football, in the German league. Instead what you have is a warping 49.9% of the players who played in the Bundesliga in the 2015/2016 season being foreign; while the balance is made-up, in part, of people whose citizenship comes with an explanation.
Like I have said before. Development can only work when it is inextricably intertwined with the education system. There is only one institution that can achieve that effectively, and that is the Ministry of Sport. Not the federations, not the clubs, not the associations and certainly not corporates. However, for as long as we demand the football industry to produce its own labour force, the industry will always cut corners and these are the results we should be happy to live with.
The tempest prognosticator
Themba A Dikgale