Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Beckham to South Africa

The following piece is an unreleased track. It was written in March this year. Enjoy.

Becks to South Africa? It could have happened...
David Beckham is football’s leading celebrity, so when news broke late last year that he was leaving America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) and looking for a new home it was naturally a pretty big deal.

Everyone, from China to Paris, was speculated to be the final “adventure” in the English star’s celebrated career.

Amongst the hullabaloo appeared a story linking Beckham with South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs. According to English tabloid The Sun, Chiefs would offer Beckham R2.5-million a month to move to Naturena.
In his article, The Sun’s Stephen Moyes wrote: “Beckham is at the centre of a £12 million (R170 million) global tug-of-war. Big-money clubs in China, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, America and France are now ready to break the bank to get the ex-England skipper.”

“Chinese football giants Shanghai Shenhua are said to be willing to pay Becks more than £350,000 (R4.9-million) a week. But they face competition from Aussie clubs Melbourne Hearts and Adelaide United, France’s Paris Saint-Germain, Brazil’s Botafogo, South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs and the New York Cosmos.”

Although Chiefs manager Bobby Motaung was swift to deny the rumours, he admitted: “It would certainly be good for the (Kaizer Chiefs) brand and good for the PSL to have a player like him come to South Africa. It would raise the stature of the league overseas and raise the profile of the game in this country.”

“If we talk about building a brand and a global audience then these types of players give you that opportunity,” Motaung added.

Beckham has since joined Paris Saint-Germain, but the episode is none-the-less significant because it is an indication of the Premier Soccer League’s potential and a clue that it is not yet being fully exploited.

The fact a star of Beckham’s stature was linked with the PSL shows where it has come to be one of the world’s best run and most profitable domestic leagues, but more importantly where it can go.

Since the 2010 World Cup the country’s global reputation has swelled, quickening the evolution of the PSL into a competitive product.

South Africa’s top league now offers the best salaries on the continent, competitive enough for the country’s top stars to return from abroad or choose to stay at home in the first place. Benni McCarthy, a Uefa Champions League winner, and Delron Buckley have both returned home instead of seeking one last big contract elsewhere. In December the Soweto Derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates was broadcast to a worldwide audience for the first time; telecast in the Caribbean, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand and the United States via the ESPN platform which represents 79 million homes.

Benni was in the 18-area
Considering this excellent progress it is somewhat of a mystery why world-renowned footballers haven’t been lured to the country.

Recently players such as former Manchester United striker Louis Saha and Zambia’s star winger Rainford Kalaba have been linked with moves to the PSL but both deals, disappointingly, fell through.

The question is why.

Certainly, as Motaung pointed out, these players would add value to the league and help to elevate it into the company of the world’s most respected leagues. The PSL is undoubtedly favourably blessed with both intangible and tangible elements – South Africa is a beautiful country and pleasant place to live while players have access to top-class facilities and coaching.

So, could it be the league isn’t aware of its own possibilities?

A number of leagues around the world comparable in status with the PSL have devised strategies to boost their global profile. One is the targeting of “marquee players”.

The MLS, for example, allows for clubs to have a specially designed deal with a superstar, even if it exceeds the salary cap. This allowance, which in Beckham’s case was partly facilitated by the league, has seen the likes of Thierry Henry arrive on big contracts over the years.

Australia’s A-League, which has a similar salary cap system to the US, also allows for marquee players. Sydney FC recently signed Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero while former England international Emile Heskey joined the Newcastle Jets.

Each league has consequently seen a boost, at least in international media interest.

In the US, which has had the system since 1996, there is a more measurable effect. The MLS is much stronger while the national team has become a formidable opponent. The increased credibility of the MLS has also resulted in more American talent moving to bigger leagues abroad, further strengthening the country’s football.

And, thanks in part to Beckham, average attendances across the league rose from 15,500 per match in 2006 to 18,800 last season.

It is these little things the PSL can copy as it seeks to reach the next level. For one, the PSL still suffers from low attendances (7,120 last season). Yes, there isn’t a culture of going to stadiums and, yes, teams have to work much harder to entice fans to games but having star players would help.

Having such marquee players, like Beckham or Henry, would also enhance the quality of the league which is sometimes questioned and exposed on the big stage such as the most recent Soweto Derby.

There is definitely the means within the league to afford one or two such players and it seemed things were headed that way with the Vodacom Challenge, which lured Manchester United, and Patrice Motsepe enticing Barcelona to South Africa for a friendly against Sundowns in 2007. The next step would be to see a Didier Drogba playing in the PSL.

Didier Drogba to the PSL...
A Dream
In this sense South Africa could be a leader on an African continent with the potential to be a world-power but that hasn’t quite found a way to be accepted into the big dance. There are nations with the means to attract the world’s best, north Africa and Angola for example. Perhaps they too would follow suit in attracting the type of elite quality that would go some way to putting Africa on par with the best in the world.

Certainly, in terms of the PSL’s potential, we are only still scratching the surface.


  1. I was also amazed when I listen the news about beckham late last year that he was leaving major league soccer. He is one of the my top favorite player in the soccer.
    South Africa News Online

  2. Hi James!

    David Beckham was a wonderful footballer and a great role model. And he did a lot to improve the exposure of Major League Soccer.

    Thank you for your comment.