RECENTLY I was engaged in an interesting debate with some local soccer lovers over the impact and whether it is necessary and fair to bring in foreign players to play for premiership teams.
So heated was the debate that stemmed from the fact that over the years the number of foreign players in the domestic league has increased.
Big guns such as Bantu, Lioli and Matlama have continued to sign foreign players and according to the football lovers with whom I spoke, they are doing so at the expense of local players.
This transfer period alone, they argued, there have been almost 10 foreign players on trial in the country at different teams although Bantu and Lioli led the pack.
One question that kept coming is whether or not the foreign players bring any value to our league as it is obvious that their influence cannot be translated to the national team.
In every league there are always big teams either gauging from a side’s rich history or its current state and the domestic league is no exception.
No doubt, most young players dream to play for the big teams however, at least according to the points raised in the debate, the big teams are the ones whose ranks are filled with foreign players.
Foreign players do not come cheap so it is not just any team that can afford them. This means that only a few youngsters will make it into the big teams. The few that actually make it into the teams may fail to make it into the regular first teams.
The simple reason for this is that teams are in business and coaches have to produce results. While league teams with a bulk of foreign players do not necessarily help the fortunes of the national team, it is also important to realise that most would even prefer to use local players.
What stops them is the lack of quality that is crucial for them to secure sponsorship and also ensure viability.
It then lies squarely with our football administrators to develop talent at a younger age so that we can also cultivate quality players at an early stage.
Professionalism is one of the most vital but missing links for African football. The corporate world will never associate with names that put their image into disrepute.
We get the bulk of foreign players from South Africa and it is evident that the various developmental competitions that players are exposed to at early stages helps nurture then into better players compared to our local players.
We have the talent but we are not doing enough to improve it especially at the early stages.
Having foreigners in our league makes it very easy for local administrators and players alike to witness first-hand what quality the region is producing. This should motivate both parties to improve. Local teams are simply signing quality and not necessarily because the players are from South Africa or any other country.
Proof is there that the teams that have been bringing in foreign players have fared better than those that do not. Added to that, those that do not bring in foreign players only fail because of lack of resources.
Specifically, because soccer is a business just as is the case in South Africa and even England, countries we should emulate, as long as a team is within the confines of the foreign players quarter, there is no problem.
The problem really is with our structures and personnel who often show lack of discipline which is a vital part of any player’s career. As some have said in the past, talent alone is not enough and an apt example is Italian player Mario Balotelli whose talent has been dwarfed by indiscipline.
It is the same with local players who remain stagnant eventually because of lack of discipline. That is where most foreign players beat our locals especially those from North, West and East Africa.
Once they sign with a team they know what is at stake and they understand the importance of attitude towards one’s work.
All over the world top leagues are dominated by foreign players and I believe it is a welcome development that our league now attracts players from other countries. What is left is for local players and the administration to smell the coffee and develop our players so that we too can produce quality that we can export instead of lamenting over the quality that we import.
That is also the only way we can improve the fortunes of our national team. Predictably, our national team will only perform better than it has done so far when we have a good number of foreign based players who are exposed to better leagues and competition in other countries.
Clubs, as businesses, cannot be blamed for lack of quality and the Lesotho Football Association just needs to wake up and develop local talent at grassroots so that our products can match those produced in the region.