The Hack: Punchlines and Ponderings

A South African, Brazilian and a German are sitting around the dinner table in Manchester.

No, this isn’t the build-up to a disappointing punchline. It really happened this week. A veritable United Nations of sorts enjoying a bit of hospitality from our hosts.

When it comes to dinners there’s usually a range of topics. When dining with friends the conversations tends to flow a lot easier. With strangers there’s ice to be broken but fortunately, as a group of sports writers, the first thing that come up was football.

After all, on the eve of the announcement between City Football Group – the owners of Manchester City, New York City, Melbourne City and Yokohama F.Marinos – and German software company SAP it was the reason we were in town.

We discussed players, teams and the ongoing transfer rumours before an innocent question regarding last year’s World Cup that had the Brazilian, Fred, shaking his head.

How is Brazilian football shaping up after the World Cup and did it have a major impact?

Fred’s response, keep in mind that the old scar that was the 7-1 drubbing at the hands of eventual winners Germany and his beloved side’s quarterfinal exit at the recent Copa America, was negative.

It resonated with me though. It served as a stark reminder that South Africa’s hosting of the event hasn’t really done too much for football development in out country. White elephants and the Fifa allegations have added more questions rather than answers.

‘Brazil have done not much for the future of the sport in our country,” explained Fred in his heavily accented English. “The league is also not at a good level so our football is not in a good way,” he added. Sound familiar?

For a country that’s won football’s showpiece five times it’s scary to think that they’ve done little to ensure that high standard is maintained.

Development is often used as a buzzword, particularly in South Africa, and is invariably linked with ambitious projects like the hosting of a World Cup. But is there ever any follow through?

If the powers that be ever needed to see development at work they should give the brains trust at Manchester City a call. A tour of their Academy provided a stark reminder that Africa is still way off the mark when it comes to developing world class players.

The facilities that their age-group sides have access to make the big clubs in the Premier Soccer League look like rank amateurs. Sad, but true. How many 14-year-olds do you know who get to enjoy the benefits of tracking software, physios and hydrotherapy?

I witnessed it at work. For these kids it’s second nature. PSL clubs would kill for this kind of stuff.

It does, however, go deeper than just throwing money at a project and hoping that it sustains itself. It’s more of a massive and intensive investment that takes a while to pay off but when it does the rewards are great and more importantly sustained.

After a few glasses of wine the conversation progressed, as it usually does at dinner parties, to politics, the ice well and truly broken thanks to the universal language that is football.

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