Nigerian soccer legend Augustine Azuka "Jay-Jay" Okocha and Botswana’s own Diphetogo “Dipsy” Selolwane took to the stage last Saturday evening to share personal experiences and give useful advice for the development of football from the grassroots level, to achieve desirable results.
The duo was speaking at a #SuperfansUnited session hosted by Barclays Bank Botswana in Gaborone where they were asked to share views about development of football, particularly in Botswana, to reach professional levels.
Selolwane said, contrary to popular belief, it is not the responsibility of retired football players alone, but every member of society to support the development of football or any sport in their own small way. He said from the simplest thing as attending training sessions to give moral support to youngsters/ players, to paying for a ticket to a soccer game and/ or buying a pair of boots, soccer ball or playing kit for kids every member of the community can play a significant role in development of football.
Citing the example of how he started playing football, Selolwane said he enjoyed immense support from his family from a very young age. “I was fortune to be born and raised in a football family. There was always a soccer ball around the house when I was growing up. That is how I developed interest and started trying out tricks very early,” he said.
Selolwane is by far Botswana’s most successful football export, who started his career at Gaborone United (GU). He played college football at St Louis University before joining MLS Chicago Fire and later Real Salt Lake City, before returning closer home to play in South Africa’s prestigious Premier Soccer League. His first PSL club was Santos, before moving to Jomo Cosmos, after a disappointing 2006-07 season. He later joined Ajax Cape Town in early 2008, where his PSL career flourished after he was converted to a midfielder that earned him a July 2010 move to league champions Supersport United.
Now retired, Selolwane has established and is currently running the Dipsy Selolwane Football Academy as a way of giving back to football, "which made me what I am today”.
“Although it is a short career, football can be rewarding if played professionally," he said with a chuckle. The academy targets young players aged 9 to 17. “The passion these kids have has re-enforced my drive to see this project through. DSFA is a dream come true. I believe God favoured me and he continues to choose me. I’m grateful to have played in the streets of Ext 2 and all the way to the highest level (AFCON),” said Dipsy, posing with some of the youngsters in his academy.
To buttress the point on collaborative effort, Okocha said it is a huge task to expect African footballers to establish soccer academies on retirement because such projects are capital intensive, and are unaffordable to many who have personal commitments to take care of.
He said in his experience as a professional footballer playing in different countries in Europe and England, soccer academies are owned by institutions. "Retired players are then engaged to impart their knowledge and skills to youngsters attending these soccer academies. Building and managing a successful soccer academy does not come cheap as it requires a lot of resources and finances,” said Okocha, explaining that successful professional leagues have soccer academies for different age groups, which act as feeders for the senior teams. He gave the example of his brother who currently plays for Arsenal in London, saying he has been with the development side of the team since the age of nine.
Notwithstanding challenges besieging local and African football in general, Okocha reiterated that football is a short career and players need to make the most of it while at their prime. He said although reasons to retire vary from one player to the next, he decided to hang up his soccer boots early because he could not stand watching from the side-lines when he did not make the first eleven. “It is no use spending the whole week training only to warm the bench on match day,” he said, adding that he cannot return to playing professional football because of advanced age.
Okocha, born 14 August 1973, is a Nigerian former professional footballer who played as an attacking midfielder. A quick and skilful playmaker, who is widely regarded as the best Nigerian player of his generation and one of the greatest African players of all time, Okocha was known for his confidence with the ball, technique, creativity, and dribbling skills, as well as his use of feints, in particular the step-over. He is a dual Nigerian-Turkish citizen, having acquired Turkish citizenship as "Muhammet Yavuz" while playing for Fenerbache.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) president Maclean Letshwiti was in attendance at the #SuperfansUnited session when Okocha and Selolwane discussed opportunities for development and growth of the local game.
BFA is the custodian of local football, which oversees the Premier League, First Division (North and South), Women's League and Regional Football Leagues. Only the Premier League and First Division have league sponsors in BTCL and Debswana respectively, while the rest have to fend for themselves.
For over a decade BFA and her affiliates have failed to implement the Bosele Declaration – a commitment made in Selibe-Phikwe in 2008 to transition local football from amateur to professionalism.
Among other things that were agreed at the Bosele convention was for clubs to sign contracts of employment with players to manage the relationship, teams to secure office space and have full time employees/ administrators. Today, 10 years down the line, teams are still run from car boots and residential homes of officials. The main issue that most teams grapple with is lack of funding and sponsorship.
Dipsy Selolwane Football Academy is one development structure that has been missing in the development of football in Botswana. Development of sustainable grassroots structures has eluded local soccer clubs and the mother body (BFA) due to a plethora of challenges among them lack of sponsorship, shortage of human resource and lack of suitable training facilities.
Local clubs are still registered as societies, which makes it difficult for private investors to invest in local soccer, leaving teams surviving from hand-outs most of the time as they cannot generate enough income to sustain themselves.
For a team to run as a fully-fledged company there has to be capital; the team should have its own training facilities and office space but at the moment this remains a far-fetched dream. Transforming a society into a private company seems to be the most difficult part, which has proven to be a tough nut to crack. Although government supports the development of sport through annual grants extended to Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC), the funding falls short because it is divided between different sporting codes.
Transformation from a society to a company has proven to be difficult compounded by the fact that premier league clubs are affiliated to BFA, which itself is registered as a society. Lack of funds is a common cry for Premier league teams to operate as companies with office spaces and full time employees/administrators. “Investors do not want to invest in non-profit making entities like a society. They want a return on investment. Therefore resources needed to professionalise football are very limited," says one administrator.