So last week the internet was abuzz after Muhsin Ertuğral went gloves off, in a post-match press conference after his side’s Ajax Cape Town took a football lesson from Mamelodi Sundowns. After a match which ended in a 2-1 defeat of the Urban Worriers, Ertuğral said he believed football in the Absa Premiership is not getting any better.
According to the Turk, when he arrived in South Africa back in the 90’s, the football played was totally different; and now it’s getting worse. He said “players are getting so much money in this country they don’t know what to do with it. And they want to play in Europe, who is going to take you there?” In an effort to put some context to his argument Muhsin Ertuğral explained how after he helped ex Cape Town City captain and PSL player of the year Lebogang Manyama to get signed by Turkish side Konyaspor; and that the 26-year-old has been struggling to get game time. “The best player Lebo Manyama which I have put in Turkey, to Konyaspor, a great team in Turkey which are not doing very well and he’s not considered to be on the bench,” said Ertuğral.
Now I am all for free speech. It is a right enshrined in our constitution, and should be protected and defended at all cost. Just the ability to post this opinion composition is a privilege I cherish with all my heart. As it is my belief that this is a fundamental building block which make this great nation of ours great all the time. However as a South African I also feel duty bound to express dismay when an irresponsible narrative contaminates the public discourse. And so allow me to poke holes in Muhsin Ertuğral’s postulate with the purpose of injecting an alternate perspective into this discussion.
Firstly I will not deal with the point about money. I think the statement that South African players are paid too much money deservers about as much attention as Donald Trump seeking to suggest that Norwegians might want to move to the USA. The far flung notion that Africans need to be hungry and exploited to be productive is just offensive. Because you never hear anybody attributing poor performance from players born in any other continent to the amount of money they are getting paid. Just the mere mention of such, is deprecating and does not deserve the dignity of a response.
On the issue of Manyama can I draw parallels with Turkish born Nuri Şahin. On 6 August 2005, at years and 334 days, Şahin became the youngest player to have played in the Bundesliga, and on the 25th of November he scored for against FC Nürnberg becoming the youngest player to score a goal in the Bundesliga. Just that alone, one cannot question the quality of the player. But when he moved to Real Madrid under José Mourinho he only managed 4 starts, and when he moved to England Brandon Rodgers said that he was too slow for the EPL; thus managing 7 appearance for Liverpool. But when the same player moved back to Borussia Dortmund he was part of Jurgen Klopp’s champion’s league team which lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich in the final. The same player managed to even score for Dortmund as they won the 2013 DFL-Supercup with a 4–2 score line against Bayern Munich.
Another example would be Fernando Torres at and Liverpool, Torres was a top performer. In fact he was so good that his move to Chelsea FC on a five-and-a-half-year contract for a fee reported to be £50 million, set a new record for a British transfer and made him the sixth most expensive footballer in history. He moved to Chelsea FC, and he was just shocking. He then went to AC Milan, well that was just embarrassing. The same player won UEFA Euro Golden Boot in 2012 when Spain defended the European Cup under the guidance of Vincent Del Bosque.
Radamel Falcao is another example. When he was at River Plate, Porto, Atlatico Madrid and Monaco, he was sensational. He moved to Manchester United FC and the Chelsea, what happened? The player found his scoring boots again when he went back to Monaco. This is player who is so good, that the Columbian Football Association had to call press conference to explain to the nation why exactly he was excluded from the National team that represented the South American country in Brazil.
James Rodríguez at Bayern Munich, Edin Džeko at Manchester City, Ángel Fabián Di María at Manchester United, Dino Ndlovu at Mpumalanga Black Aces – I can give you example after example. All day, and two times on a Sunday. The reality is Manyama’s situation is not unique. The fact that someone would like to extrapolate that to establish a postulate about South African football is simply condescending.
When a nation suffers from an inferiority complex, one of the symptoms is a desperation to be reaffirmed by the approval of their colonial masters instead of looking within. When a society isn’t guided by its own standards. It stands to reason that such a people would take any offer that comes from Europe even if the team that is signing the player’s football philosophy is not a good fit for the player himself.
With respect, as a South African, I would be disconcerted if my standards of footballing excellence were determined by a club in Turkey. Because let’s be honest, who watches Turkish football anyway? If you could offer Turkey our continental record, their President and their Football Association would kiss your feet. Secondly if the player isn’t a good fit with the team then that shouldn’t suddenly be an incident that underpins our self-evaluation.
Although Muhsin Ertuğral’s credentials as a relegation escapologist is undeniable, I have to question the rationale behind the notion that South African players are not playing in the EPL, La Liga and the Bundesliga because no one will have them. Surely we should respect ourselves enough to make our analysis more sophisticated than that?
This view seeks to ignore obvious structural constraint in our football industry which act as barriers for European transfers. The fact that the average age of the nominees at the ABSA PSL awards has ranged between 29-31 year-on-year for the last 10 years, because players start late in the league, is a structural issues related to the industry. Not the quality of the players.
In his own words Muhsin Ertuğral said that maybe it is only Mamelodi Sundowns who have players that could make it in Europe; because “they are well coached.” Perhaps the issue is not the quality of players, but indeed the quality of coaches we do bring into the country. Because if you have coached clubs all over the world and cannot keep a job in Europe where they have better players. And have never managed to win a league title in a career that has lasted 27 years. Then the question begs to be answered, are you the right quality of coach to guide these seemingly horrible players to be better?
Just a thought?
The tempest prognosticator
Themba A Dikgale