South Africa’s Search for a National Playing Style

By Gemma Mcdonald | July 29th, 2010 5 Comments

Coach Styles teaching future Bafana and PSL stars in Pietermaritzburg (Photo by Gemma Mcdonald)

National football styles are intertwined with a country’s history and culture. Can Pitso Mosimane, Bafana Bafana’s new homegrown coach, develop a common ‘South African’ playing style? If the former SuperSport coach and Bafana assistant succeeds, he will have done better than his Brazilian, Romanian, English, Portuguese, and French predecessors.

‘South African football is a sort of United Nations,’ writes Izichwe Youth Football director Thabo Dladla in his ‘Talking Football’ column this week. ‘You have parts of the country like the Western Cape with their English influence, inland areas with diski [street style] influence, some German and Dutch influence in SAFA structures, [and more recently] Brazilian and Serbian influences.’

Clearly, Mosimane faces a daunting challenge in trying to craft a common style out of a melange of local and foreign influences. ‘South African football is more about ball retention and individual improvisation,’ Dladla notes.  ‘We grow up playing in small spaces, on hard, bumpy surfaces.  The small frame and short-to-medium height of the majority of our players make it logical to play mainly short passes on the ground.’

World champions Spain point the way forward for South Africa. It’s not a question of conveniently jumping on the winners’ bandwagon. Rather, Dladla notes that ‘Spanish football is based on technique, ball possession and nimble short-passing combination.’ That Spain’s 11 starters in the World Cup all play in La Liga further inspires many South Africans eager to raise the quality of the domestic Premier Soccer League.

Will South Africa’s performances improve under Mosimane? Will a new national style of play reflect the sharper sense of South Africanness left by the 2010 World Cup?  Perhaps, but until that time local fans will keep on blowing vuvuzelas in the stadiums: ‘They are bored,’ says Dladla, ‘There is nothing to entertain them between the lines.’


Gerard Akindes

July 29th, 2010 | 8:10 pm    

Ptiso Mosimane is a national team coach. Only wins and losses will counts and define his. That may happen with some luck and descent tactical organization and discipline. But a long term transformation of South African football is bigger project that requires another level organization, long term planning and discipline.
South African townships and many African cities are fertile grounds for talent. But it shouldn’t be like gold or diamond mines where only extracting and selling matters. Good structures have to be put in place to nurture the football development of these millions of youngsters. Safe and clean playgrounds for free, creative and undirected play, constant training of youth coaches, and re-rooting the game within the players communities are some directions to consider for the long term development of the game. That where the South African style of playing will occur and then determine Bafana Bafana’s playing style.


July 29th, 2010 | 11:30 pm    

Agreed! The problem with South African football, far too often, is that it wants to sprint before it is even able to crawl. It’s the arrogance and snootiness that permeate us as a nation and bedevil our progress, not just on the football field but in other areas as well. Instead of seeing structure, grassroots, development, nurture, gradual, time, patience, long-term, SA football only sees money, competition, instant gratification, immediate glory, short-term gain, avarice and “how do I get a piece of it all for myself’. It’s a sad state of affairs, but has been the status quo for the last 16 years. Post- World Cup, there has been more positive talk, and it is to be hoped that the game’s administrators are intent on walking the talk.


July 30th, 2010 | 1:30 am    

Thanks for the excellent points Gerard and Rodney. Thabo Dladla supports what you are saying in his podcast interview with me (more here I have also written about this issue on this blog, in academic journal articles (see Politikon 2007) and in African Soccerscapes too.

I do believe it is important to strategize how to implement changes on the ground. SA soccer, like US soccer, is still too dominated by antiquated ideas and coaches enamored by English kick-and-rush. Fresh approaches and ideas will be needed for youth development programs in townships and rural areas. It’s all linked together. Putting people before profits and expressing who we are with a new SA style is part of it. And with lots of hard work, qualified people, and investment from government and other sources an alternative future is possible.

Solomon Waliaula

July 30th, 2010 | 6:17 am    

I agree with the slant of the discourse, but I also want to add that like England, South Africa runs the risk of attracting the best African players to its club football stage, which obviously deals a big blow to the development of home talent. The last time I checked, the elite clubs in South Africa had a considerable proportion of players from Zambia, Zimbabwe, DRC Congo, Nigeria and so on. That is a worrying trend! Egypt and Spain have one thing in common, there national team players are mainly drawn from perhaps two or three dometic clubs…and of course the other side of the coin is that even when a country, like Ivory Coast of Nigeris for instance, has tremendous football talent, if their club football stetches them out between Western tip to the Eatern tip of Europe, playing in very different club formations and sometimes being converted from creative to spoiler players in the process (such as Nigerian’s Chelsea based Obi Mikel), then the national team of such a country doesnt dom well.


August 2nd, 2010 | 2:15 am    

Solomon is right to call attention to South Africa’s position as a target destination for internal African migration of football talents. Tunisia and Egypt also fall into this category, although I don’t have the precise numbers of ‘foreign Africans’ in these leagues. But it seems clear that South African football, like its corporate business sector, has an unequal relationship with the rest of Africa — which some analysts point to as an example of postapartheid South Africa’s “sub-imperial role” on the continent.
Nigeria and Ghana are trying to imitate the South African PSL’s corporate model by building a different kind of domestic league with major sponsors and TV contracts. I have my doubts as to whether these plans will work out for the benefit of domestic football.

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