Stuck In A Rut

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I come bearing bad news and no gifts. I would like to think that I am a good person and wouldn’t go out to intentionally hurt anyone. But being a columnist, one sometimes, often unwittingly, steps on the toes of more than a few, or hurts them with his opinions. But it is the world, some hard things must be said and one can only assume that people do not take the criticism personally.
But wait, in this instance I hope my words will sting and those who must-all of us in this instance, must be stabbed and wounded by the words herein. Criticism is hard to take and I know this because there are many areas of my life where I have been wrong and have been constantly chided for it. But the exercise and spirit of criticism are better than sugar coating things.
Last Saturday I was thrilled to be among the decent crowd that witnessed the BTC premier league’s opener between Township and Tafic SC. I could find words to dress up the occasion; words to convey hope and belief in what I saw. I could tell you that it was the first league game and things will surely improve but I will not and will rather say it as i saw it; that the ball was continuously butchered and when the referee blew the final whistle i swear the ball was left battered and bloodied.
Almost everyone on the pitch treated the ball with some contempt or disdain, save for one Tshepo Motlhabankwe, a fine and peerless player who can put many a midfielder and forward to shame with his technique and decision making. Had it been that what I witnessed in Francistown was a once off  I would be a bit more forgiving. The truth, the hard cold truth is that our game isn’t moving forward and hasn’t done so in quite some time and it isn’t the players’ problem. It’s a collective problem- a national disaster.
This country is still held back by the lack of a culture within clubs; a philosophy, an idea how we want our clubs to be seen to play. We lack an enduring philosophy that defines our clubs and ourselves and the players and the game suffer the worst for it. The premier league is the country’s flagship, football wise; it is our brand and face.
It must portray or aspire to show the world what our dreams, hopes and vision for our game is. That exercise cannot be undertaken by multimillion sponsorships or supporters continuously filling the stadia. Premier league football, ideally, ought to have a standard, expectations to which it subscribes to.
The quality of play must reveal that we are watching premier league football and even for the lowest team on the log, the level must scream “premier league standard”. And in my humble view this standardization is only possible if we took time to develop our players.
Development is an education, a proper foundation. Developed players are emotionally intelligent and acquire the basics that in my opinion must be found in every player who takes to the pitch in a premier league setting. Developed players would give us a better game than what we have. There are too many people who erroneously believe that being talented on its own is enough to sustain a player’s career in the game. Although I did not go far with my football ‘career’ I have seen talented players, really gifted players who could not build on their potential and go far.
The common denominator among them was that they hadn’t been properly developed or were simply not coachable. One may have all the talent in the world but if he isn’t able to process all the coaching he has been given and express it on the pitch, then he won’t go far- a regular occurrence among players who come into the premier league without having gone through the proper heads and learned minds of the game.
The standard of our game needs to improve and we who have a voice must be bold enough to demand and spearhead that improvement. It hurts watching most of our premier league games because the truth, the bitter truth, that truth which we so avoid, is that the standard and quality just doesn’t cut it for a premier league.
Rarely does one get to see play patterns developing on the pitch or the exhibition of a certain style against the other. I am for a game that is insistent, stubborn even, on the pursuit of ideas and philosophies, however empty that last may sound. A game, a league and a people that do not chase ideas and ideals are often left behind by the world or they get to ride on the coat tails or those who are brave enough to dare to be different.
In the above mentioned Tafic-Rollers game I wasn’t hurt so much by the number of times the ball went up in the air to no one but by how most of us actually extol such low standards of play. I am tempted to be persuaded that being subject to poor standards over a prolonged period; one actually gets to accept it, to build a castle in that little piece of land called mediocrity and call it home. Well I refuse to because this country has the ability to do better, much better.
In my opinion i think the best way to judge the standard of our game is to determine the nature of a relationship a player has with the ball on the pitch. Simply put, what does a player do when the ball gets to him? Is his first instinct to get it away from him as far as possible and onto the next guy or a ‘safe’ zone. Well, some would argue that as a defender, that makes sense but then being a defender does not exclude one from having the basics. Too many times I have seen Tshepo Motlhabankwe step out of the ball with such consummate ease and class from the back.
He can pass well, uses either feet and is in my opinion one of the smartest players in this country. The sad part is there are very few players in this country who possess such technical qualities as he does. It is not about having high end technical qualities but just the basics to get you by.
The norm in this country is to look for hard working midfielders, workhorses, true warriors whose  commitment to the cause cannot be questioned and put the more technical players on the sides or as a number 10 or even furthest up the pitch. Consequently you get teams packed of workhorses who are tactically astute, compact and snuffing out every little fire. Conversely, because they are not most comfortable with the ball at their feet, they rush passes; they hoof it upwards, up in the air, up in the clouds. They make less mistakes and for that they must be applauded but they are unimaginative and lack creativity and are not risk takers especially in the last third. Having suck kind of  midfielders and even defenders naturally affects the attackers in several ways; they are given poor service (passes), the passes are a second or two late and have to spend the majority of the game on their bikes and actually spend more time running than touching the ball. It’s a sad state of affairs in my view.
It is easier to construe my words as to convey that I prefer a certain style of play over others. Hardly! In the words of Diego Simeone, football is just like life, there is no better way of living it. I am however insistent that in spite of whatever style  a manager subscribes to, all players ought to have certain technical attributes that are common among all: passing the ball well, using it well and using the ball well under pressure. There is no joy, nothing to be gained if we cannot seek to address the lack of a certain quality and standard in our football.
But hey what do I know, my qualifications for commenting in such an insolent manner are quite sketchy: Monday morning quarterback, couch potato and whatsapp group admin.