The PSL ‘year of the kids’ looms
IT WAS the great Matt Busby who said: “If you are good enough, you are old enough.”
And PSL coaches are making that mantra their own as they pin their hopes on some of South Africa’s young talent this season. When Kaizer Chiefs host reigning league champions Bidvest Wits at FNB Stadium tonight, at least three of these sensational teenagers will have another chance to give the kind of performance that would make Busby much pleased were he still alive.
Wiseman Meyiwa, now the youngest ever Amakhosi debutant at 17, Reeve Frosler (19) and his Wits team-mate Kobamelo Kodisang (18) will line up for their respective teams in this Absa Premiership clash with much more awareness of their ability than ever before.
Meyiwa, for one, had an introduction to professional football that he will never forget – scoring the second goal in Chiefs’ 2-0 win over Cape Town City on Wednesday. Frosler had to step up last season when the more experienced rightback Nazeer Allie suffered a fractured toe, while Kodisang was only 15 when coach Cavin Johnson gave him a taste of topflight football at Platinum Stars, a side he left two years later to join Wits as a free agent in July.
“I can’t imagine playing for Chiefs at 17,” said Amakhosi coach Komphela, himself a former Chiefs player, this week. “Unbelievable. I am getting goose bumps just talking about it. It’s crazy. It has been a while in SA football where you hear that parents had to be called in to sign a professional contract because the player is a minor. We had to call in his (Meyiwa’s) mom to the office to do so when we took the decision to register the player.”
The Chiefs midfielder and his two youth international counterparts, Frosler and Kodisang, have all played at age-group World Cups, with Meyiwa featuring at both the Under-17 and Under-20 competitions recently. Komphela was quick to caution that his teenage superstar should be protected, but scoring on debut has made that a little bit tricky seeing that Meyiwa has proven what kind of dynamite, no matter the size and age of the package, he can be.
“What led us to the decision to play him was because of the quality he gives,” Komphela said. “The boy is fearless, you can ask his team-mates. Sometimes when he is on the training ground he is like a 30-year-old, very aggressive. He is not shaky, even in the match on Wednesday. When you have (Willard) Katsande, Mido (George Maluleka) and Meyiwa, if they go for a challenge and you get the same feel, then I don’t look at age. I look at what it is that we want. Can he press the ball? Is he strong enough to stick a foot in? He is confident in all of that.”
It’s not just Chiefs and Wits who are showing faith in young players this season, which could very well be the year of the kids. Sure, Ajax Cape Town has a whole model going of picking from their youth academy, promoting to the senior team and then selling them to bigger clubs locally and abroad. But the PSL’s so-called top sides are taking risks, too.
Orlando Pirates promoted 17-yearold Lyle Foster instead when striker Tendai Ndoro surprisingly signed for Saudi Arabian club Al-Faisaly just before the transfer window closed last month.
SuperSport United have continued to introduce Teboho Mokoena (20), who has been joined into first-team football by Sipho Mbule (19).
“It’s become a universal phenomenon all over the world,” Komphela explained. “The game is getting highly tactical and very fast. And you know that the faster people are the young ones, so you have to give them the opportunity. Look at the Germany team that won the Confederations Cup this year, a very young team, but fairly capable. They still have their senior team. What is happening now is good for Stuart (Baxter, the Bafana Bafana coach) and it is good for the future. These are the small steps we need to benefit from in future.”