New crop of talented teens shining in Europe, says Phiri
Guingamp midfielder says it is a positive sign that young players are going abroad
Guingamp midfielder Lebogang Phiri believes a more modern player is emerging from SA — one who is ready to make an impact in Europe again.
For the past decade many players left SA but failed to cut the mustard in Europe.
Some had discipline issues and many did not seem to have the stomach to stick it out and returned home to the comfort of the Premier Soccer League too quickly.
Phiri earned rave reviews for Guingamp in his two seasons in Ligue 1‚ but in 2018/2019 could not help save them from relegation to Ligue 2.
The Bafana Bafana international sees the emergence of more South Africans willing to leave home at around 20 years old to brave it in Europe as a positive sign.
The Bidvest Wits youth product also believes the standard of coaching at clubs, with strong development programmes or academies‚ helps the players adapt better from that young age.
“I think‚ personally‚ our country‚ we’ve evolved in terms of our football‚” Phiri said.
“And we have players who are very tactical — technicians as well. And, of course, in Europe it’s always been a more physically built player. When you’re a South African, it’s always been: ‘He’s not big enough‚ he’s not strong enough‚ he’s not fast enough.’
“But now with us evolving in our football, there is more intelligence in our play. So that’s why you get a lot of players moving abroad.
“Not just France — you get players in Portugal‚ players in England as well with small physical stature, but they’re doing their best there.”
Four South Africans have been making an impact in France‚ all of them academy products.
Lebogang Mothiba‚ who had a good scoring season for Strasbourg in 2018/2019‚ came through Diambars Academy in Johannesburg. Bongani Zungu‚ a star at Amiens SC‚ emerged from the Pretoria University FC academy.
Phiri came through Wits’ youth programme and Keagan Dolly‚ at Montpellier‚ from Ajax Cape Town’s academy.
A new generation of such youngsters — Kobamelo Kodisang‚ Luther Singh‚ Lyle Foster‚ Tashreeq Matthews and Gift Links — is emerging in Portugal‚ Belgium and Scandinavia.
Phiri, now 24‚ and who left SA at 18 to join Brondby IF in Sweden, believes these teens have the hunger to stick it out in tough conditions.
“We are all so keen on playing in Europe‚ we’re all so keen on making big moves abroad‚” he said.
“Because we can see in the world of football there are 16-year-olds being fielded in big games — Paris St-Germain‚ Barcelona and Manchester City.
“And I think age is no longer a factor for you to get to the highest level. So we’re taking so many risks. I mean, playing abroad does come with so many risks‚ and there are all these difficulties that you face.
“And I think we have that within ourselves; we have that inner beast‚ to say we want to go out there play among the best‚ and be the best as well.”
Phiri was called up for Bafana’s friendly to have been played last Saturday‚ but which was cancelled as Zambia and then Madagascar pulled out in response to the xenophobic violence in SA.