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Safa technical director Walter Steenbok (centre). Picture: SUPPLIED
Safa technical director Walter Steenbok (centre). Picture: SUPPLIED

More than two years since Neil Tovey’s contract as the SA Football Association’s (Safa) technical director expired, the position will finally be filled.     

Walter Steenbok, known more as a scout thanks to his stints with Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs, is Safa’s technical director-elect after being recommended by the organisation’s technical committee and approved by the national executive committee at their meeting on Saturday. A few issues still remain to complete the appointment.

As the new technical director, Steenbok has the considerable task of driving the growth and development of the game in the technical sphere. This encompasses everything from organising coaching programmes and performance analysis to devising health and nutrition programmes for the national teams. 

His academic qualifications are impressive and will hopefully stand him in good stead as he takes up the task of rejuvenating SA football, especially the men’s teams that have not come close to fulfilling the potential demanded by their natural talent.

Besides a master’s degree in sports directorship from Manchester Metropolitan University that he obtained in 2018, Steenbok also graduated with an MBA in sports management through the Real Madrid Graduate School in June.

The latter qualification, which he attained through part-time online learning over nine months, should give him valuable insight into how to make the national teams more competitive and strengthen the game at grassroots level.

Speaking shortly after his appointment, Steenbok flagged the right areas that need immediate attention. 

Besides his short-term goal of supporting Banyana Banyana in their preparations for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the new technical director revealed an ambitious to-do list that needs urgent attention. More than that, it requires almost immediate implementation.

If he manages to fulfil his plans to reintroduce schools football, Steenbok should receive a presidential medal. For several years there has been nothing more than talk of having organised schools football without tangible proof that concrete steps have indeed been taken in that direction.

The first encounter most youngsters have with organised sport is at school level, and it’s almost criminal that this opportunity is not afforded to millions of young boys and girls across SA.

Imagine the burgeoning talent pool that would be provided by an organised schools programme that extends to annual provincial tournaments, culminating with winning national colours. The former Sacos-affiliated SA Primary Schools Sports Association and the SA Senior Schools Sports Association ran successful national tournaments for nearly three decades. There is no reason this can’t be replicated.

If cricket can have the annual Khaya Majola Week and rugby the Craven Week, there’s no reason football should not have something similar. It really is an indictment on the administrators that there is no national schools football programme in SA. 

Steenbok has also set himself the tricky task of mending fences between Bafana coach Hugo Broos and his Premier Soccer League (PSL) counterparts. The 70-year-old Belgian has never been shy to speak his mind and some of his comments, particularly about the standard of football in the PSL and his candid observations about certain players, have not gone down well.

Of course, the former Benoni Premier United and Basotho Tigers coach would first have to nurture a relationship with Broos before tackling the more sensitive task of rapprochement with the PSL coaches.

An early test will come when he tries to help Broos in getting clubs to accede to a request to organise a training camp during the World Cup period in November and December.

It’s a reasonable request from the national coach to seek assistance in trying to organise a training camp or even some friendlies to help Bafana prepare for their crucial back-to-back 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Liberia next March.

The 1996 African champions need at least four points from those two games to ensure a return to the continental showpiece after missing out on the last edition in Cameroon. Every effort should be made to help the Bafana coach achieve that. 

The success of the national teams depends greatly on co-operation between the PSL and Safa and, by extension, the respective coaches. It’s important there are open lines of communication when it comes to issues like releasing players for training camps and monitoring performances and fitness levels.

It’s imperative for all the stakeholders and role players to pull in the same direction if our national teams are to take their rightful place at the top table of African football, where SA, with its modern infrastructure and vast pool of natural talent, undoubtedly belongs.  

Nicknamed “Baresi” in honour of the legendary former Italian defender, Steenbok will do well if he can emulate the former AC Milan great as he seeks to sweep up the problems that plague SA football. 

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