COSAFA NEEDS PARADIGM SHIFT
WHEN the Supreme Council of Sports in Africa Zone 6 established the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations in 1992, the main goal was to develop football in the region.
The countries in this part of the continent were really lagging behind those in western and northern Africa.
The COSAFA Castle Cup meant more games for the COSAFA nations and better exposure for the region’s players.
There was also the need to create a platform for European scouts to fish cheaper gems for their market.
Back then, all players would not miss a chance to participate in the COSAFA competitions and in 2003, Peter Ndlovu, then playing for Sheffield United in England, had to fly home soon after his team’s game on a Saturday just to participate in that year’s edition of the COSAFA Cup final.
He arrived two hours before the match and such was the prestige of tournament that FIFA even described it ‘as the best regional football competition in the world’.
Fast forward to 2017, Knowledge Musona, would take a call-up to the COSAFA Castle Cup as an insult.
He is a real Warrior at heart but certainly not for such a tournament.
Ovidy Karuru can’t believe his luck for being given a second dance with the Warriors and has gladly accepted the invitation to captain the nation’s COSAFA Castle Cup squad.
Or Blessing Majarira of Herentals who never, in his wildest of dreams, saw himself donning the Warriors jersey.
It wouldn’t be surprising if George Chigova is asking himself, ‘What on earth am I doing here?’
What can’t be disputed is that the tournament has lost its lustre.
If national associations could be honest they would confess they see little value in this tournament in its current format. Something has to change. South Africa have been sending their third string side and this year’s COSAFA Bafana side has an average age of 22.55 years.
That is after including a 28-year-old and three 27-year-olds.
Mozambique have chosen to pick players that are neither in their AFCON qualifiers squad nor the CHAN 2018 qualifiers squad.
Even our Warriors squad has a bit of a bias towards youth and fringe players save for the defenders who fit the incumbent coach’s mentality of size and maturity at the back.
We have seen the fans staying away from the group stage games. Obviously, to them, it’s not value for money. They can’t part with their hard-earned money to watch Bafana C playing Mozambique C/D.
The other tournaments under the COSAFA flagship, that is, the men’s under 17s and under 20s, the women’s under 20s, COSAFA women’s cup and the Beach Soccer tournaments remain relevant and valuable to the participating associations. For the COSAFA Castle Cup tournament to remain relevant it has to take a different direction.
The question is which direction would make the regional tournament relevant again?
We already have relevant youth tournaments and so how do we move forward with the COSAFA Castle Cup?
The task is a daunting one and it needs people to think outside the box.
In my wildest imaginations I would suggest a new definition for a “developmental squad” to include players under 25 years of age and an allowance of a maximum of five over-aged players.
My reasoning is that most senior national squads’ average between 26 and 28 years of age.
And the assumption is that most football players mature and reach their peak at around that range.
Taking that into account, there is always a gap for players who don’t graduate into the senior team after the Under-23s.
The allowance for over-aged players takes into consideration those that would have been on the wayside for one reason or another.
It might be late bloomers like Blessing Majarira, those getting a second bite of the cherry like Ovidy Karuru, the underrated like Bruce Homora and Ocean Mushure or the unfortunate ones like Raphael Manuvire.
We can’t go on like this where the tournament has lost its identity, and appeal, yet it rumbles on and on and on.