The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Sport - Both­well Mahlengwe

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.

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