Kirsten Nematandani, like most people in similar circumstances, rode in to the SAFA top post on a wave of promises and enthusiasm when he was elected president of the football association, in a voting saga more intriguing than his unopposed victory suggests.
To those uninitiated to the politics of the local game, that is.
In Nematandani’s “volley of oaths” was a particular emphasis on the development of young soccer players throughout the country’s nine provinces, saying that the country’s football future lay in the youth structures, whose importance has long been lamented by football experts and the media.
“You need to invest at grassroots level in order to produce a talented pool of players”, Nematandani said at the time.
That was back in 2009 shortly after the former head of referees was elected to the highest and lucrative seat in South African football, less than a year before the country hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Yesterday, nearly four years on, Nematandani again took to the national podium to speak about youth development, this time to inform the public that SAFA would launch the organisation’s Technical Master Plan.
He announced the launch of under-13 and under-15 boys’ and girls’ league, where a 1000 boys and 1000 girls will showcase their talents and be scouted by national selectors for a chance to join a central academy that will further develop their talents, according to a report by Kick-Off magazine.
The much-anticipated plan, in short, details how SAFA will use the hundreds of millions generated by the World Cup and held until now in a FIFA Legacy trust, to invest in “grassroots” development of players and coaches via a league in SAFA’s 311 branches across the country.
The objective is clear enough: to turn Bafana, Banyana Banyana, and all the junior national teams, into formidable sides that reflect and justify South Africa’s abundant resources and widely vaunted passion for the game.
That it took a full four years to finally unveil the grand plan for the revenue of a tournament we knew we would be hosting at least five years in advance which puts the total time to almost a decade is not the main issue.
To be sure, the prolonged time it took to reveal the plan is Lilliputian compared to revelations by a recent Fifa investigation that implicates members of the very same SAFA executive Nematandani captains, in fixing at least two international games before the World Cup.
Calls by everyone from sports minister Fikile Mbalula to worried fans of the beautiful game for an independent enquiry into the controversy have fallen on deaf ears and a din of lip-service.
The figures involved in the suspected fixing are between four and ten million rand. R450 million has been made available by Fifa through the trust for development academies for the development of football in the country.
Recently, SAFA has also been reported to be close to bankruptcy.
It will be interesting to see if Nematandani and SAFA will be able to pull off the juggling act, of achieving its youth development goals, managing the huge World Cup windfall, while trying to pull itself out of a financial hole.