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Former AmaZulu Head of Development: We Are A Generation Away From Producing Top Players

Steve Bezuidenhout (Right) at AmaZulu FC

Back in the days, South Africa produced one of the best players on the continent and, by default, our national team was one of the best in Africa. Our players played in Europe and we did well in the Nations Cup tournaments, while qualifying for World Cups wasn’t a major issue. Nowadays, we have very few players playing in the big leagues and we’re no longer the force we once were as South Africa. Development has been criticized a lot as being one of the major issues into why we find ourselves in this unpleasant situation. 

To address the issue and find out more on how we can solve our development problems, we caught up with former AmaZulu Head of Development, Steve Bezuidenhout, Kwa-Zulu Natal’s Sven Mislintat, who has a reputation for scouting and nurturing young talent. Bezuidenhout tells us what he is doing to save the country and what steps we need to follow to ensure we produce world class players again.

Banele Pikwa: Coach, you’ve been very busy over the years. You started your own academy and it did quite well producing some great players. Surprisingly, you left it and joined the Sharks academy and again it was doing well but you still left and joined up with AmaZulu. Could you please give a brief background about yourself and what are you currently busy with now?

Steve Bezuidenhout: Basically, the background is development, I ran my own academy for five or six years. It was reasonable and successful, we produced six or seven PSL (Premier Soccer League) players at that time.

We are involved in High Schools, the local KZN High Schools, establishing them and we are trying to develop pathways there. With the help of Clive Barker, or the assistance of Clive Barker, I should say, we opened the Sharks academy, the football division. There, we were targeting university students so the guys can have an extra year or two of playing football in an organised environment to see if they could make it. 

From there I joined AmaZulu as Head of Development, I was there for four years, running a program. I think we were the first people in KZN to combine football and education with our program in Glenwood [High School]. That was a first, and we did a full-time academy of boys living in the BEE of Glenwood and some boys commuting. We had morning sessions, afternoon sessions, player lifestyle monitoring, gym work, skill work, tactical work and video analysis. We did that for about a year or two and it did very well. 

Unfortunately, the club and I had differences of opinions and I obviously left last year. It looks like the partnership with Glenwood will come to an end which is a bit sad for KZN development.

BP: I’m listening..

SB: I started a business called SoccerTech, which is a consulting company. We are trying to target high schools and amateur football clubs. Our aim is to improve the level of amateur football in the six to 13-year-old age groups. 

We are really trying to get a better foundation for players, and by doing that we are coaching education. That I believe is the way of doing it, by improving the quality of the coaches coaching kids. You end up with the better-quality product, the kids get better and you get a broader base of better developed kids at a younger age. 

That is the one focus, the other focus is the High School side and I believe the high schools have got a massive role to play. My vision is to see high schools around the country having that pipe line which is exactly the same as cricket, hockey and rugby where they [the schools] play each other and that is an academy in itself. In those sports, these high schools are academies because they have everything and they produce some of the best rugby and cricket players in the world. 

I believe soccer can get there also as one of the pipelines. Obviously, soccer is a lot more diverse in terms of the income demographics, where you have a lot of low income which rugby and cricket don’t necessarily have. 

Yes, it can’t cater for everyone but I believe we will have the big schools like D.H.S [Durban High School], Westville Boys, Hilton College and Michael House joining in. These schools will end up competing on a national level. They will go find talented kids and give them scholarships like how they are doing with cricket and rugby so they can improve their program. 

I truly believe you will see some of the best talent coming out. For me that’s the answer to us having proper world class players because we will end up having players with a much broader education base, a wilder world view, a greater interest in exotic places and therefore it will be easier for them to adapt to Europe when they go abroad which has been one of the biggest issues. 

A low-income kid battles to adapted to European conditions and that’s a major issue and because of that, they either fall into bad habits, come back early or just struggle to fit in and end up not making it.

Children from AmaZulu Development playing Soccer

BP: If we compare Cricket and Rugby, let’s look at the Varsity Cup over the last 12 years it has produced 44 players to go on and play for the Springboks but on the footballing side it hasn’t produced much. How far are we in order to be at that level and produce similar numbers? 

SB:  A generation at least. 

Look, the complexes are huge, if we are going to produce enough top-quality players and be a top 20 country in the world, we need much better development at a younger age for both informal and formal development. I believe informal development is as good as formal development. I mean informal development at 6-12 years old is great. 

That’s where Pele, [Lionel] Messi and [Diego] Maradona came about. They didn’t sit in academies when they were six [years old], they were brought up in the streets and learnt the game there. 

Our problem is that in the rural areas, it’s so dispersed, so you don’t get enough players playing regular enough to develop organically. In the low-income areas there are no means to create structure to develop and that’s where our government, Sports & Recreation come in. I won’t say they have let us down but have made a channel of resources into the wrong areas where they have looked at the show rather than to looking at the grow, or the show and grow. 

The grow is down to 6-13 [years old] when developing kids properly and the show is 14, 15, 16 and 17. So you get a boy who’s 16 years old, who spends two years at a Sport & Recreation program. After that he signs for Kaizer Chiefs and we all clap our hands and say what a wonderful job they [Sports and Recreation] have done. 

The fact of the matter is, with or without that program, that kid would still become a professional. Because he has the talent. We sometimes forget the critical dynamic in this, development is not creating professional footballers. We have to create professionals because we have two professional leagues. 

It doesn’t matter what we do but we will always have professionals as long as we have those two professional leagues, because at the end of the day those leagues will need players. 

Siyabonga Nomvethe is retiring at the end of the season and AmaZulu will have one less striker, in fact, two with Mabhuti [Khenyeza] leaving. They have to replace those strikers, it’s inevitable, either they replace from their own youth or buy from somebody else. So, there’s a difference between development and having professional players.

BP: Would you say our clubs are taking development seriously?

SB: At the moment, they don’t and it’s complex. They don’t because they don’t see the financial return on it, its short term thinking at times. 

If you going to spend five years developing a player from a low-income area, that will cost you roughly R100 000 a year to develop that player properly. So, you will have to put about R500 000 on a player and there’s no guarantee that he will become a professional. 

It’s much easier for teams to buy a 22-year-old who’s had three years of ABC Motsepe league experience and has a much longer progress into professional ranks, he’s a surer bet and they cost about R100 000. So, the clubs save about R400 000 and they’ve managed the risk. 

That’s the problem we have, clubs often manage risks in terms of development, though, at times, I feel they are over cautious. 

That’s one of the reasons I think we will end up in this pipeline of big schools developing players because they can manage the risk. All the facilities and resources are there. They already have these high-performance programmes for rugby and cricket. 

Yes, a lot of boys have to pay to be there. But there’s a large group of boys who can pay to be at these schools and are talented. 

If you look at Lyle Foster, he went to Jeppe Boys High School. That’s the kind of school I’m talking about, he will pay to go to a school like that because his parents want a good education. That’s the same thing with Kagiso Rabada, Siya Kolisi and Lungi Ngidi, their parents made sure they pay for their kids to be there because it’s not only about sport. 

He leaves that school and he’s in a pathway into being an accountant, doctor, or even a lawyer which still uplifts their families. So, parents are starting to make these choices for their kids because these schools ensure you go to a top university.

AmaZulu Development Staff

BP: Talking about school sports, this thing of having Cricket season in the first term, Rugby season in the second term and soccer in the third term when everyone is focusing on exams. Won’t that make it difficult for schools to produce enough players?

SB: That’s one of the dynamics for change. SoccerTech are involved in a couple of schools like D.H.S, Westville boys, and there are other schools in the province that we are not involved in like Maritzburg College. These schools are starting to say we have enough elite football players in our schools to have an elite football program. 

For example, D.H.S and Westville Boys, on the 1st of February is their first training session. They have a 12-month football program now and in development for that age you try and target 40 – 60 games a year. 

These schools can do that now, I mean there are quite some good schools that are already on a 12-month program and some decent affordable schools too like Umlazi Cromtech and Adams College, they’ve produced some good football players. 

So, we are not a million miles away from having a competitive league and it would be much easier if schools like Michaelhouse, Hilton College, and St. Charles join in so we can have a proper league.

BP: What’s your opinion about diet? Development coaches are often accused of giving young boys fast foods such as KFC after their matches. How does that affect the kids?

SB: That’s interesting because when you speak to a dietitian, they will tell you that some nutrition is better than no nutrition. Though, I think there is a level of ignorance to what the coaches are doing and there’s a level of harm they are doing. 

But then again, when you look at those kids, that fast food they are getting which is often chicken. Yes, it’s deeply fried and very fatty but it’s maybe the one really good meal those kids are getting on the day. 

Where the harm comes is the habit it creates, it creates a notion of that being okay. It becomes a habit and it becomes a problem when they do it at professional level. The clubs try to give them decent meals but these players get paid and they still go to these fast foods outlets after the game. 

Nutrition is a major one but there are a lot more social problems we need to tackle first.

BP: At AmaZulu, you were the Head of development. Whose criteria did the coaches use to select players? Is it your criteria as Head of development or is it the Head coach’s criteria? 

SB: We created our own criteria and we didn’t get a lot of reaction from the head coaches. 

While I was there, we had four different head coaches, Craig Rosslee, Steve Barker, [Joey] Antipas and Cavin Johnson. The youth doesn’t get a lot of reaction, I think it’s the nature of the PSL. Head coaches see themselves as short term fixes and often think I’m here to get fired. 

The only coach that didn’t tell me that was Steve Barker, every other coach said I’m here to get fired. 

So, I personally developed a philosophy of play which was like a logistical bible that described how the youth runs, how we employ people, what job titles we need. We had a clear grading for the technical outline and a clear style of play that was suited for each age group. Which I believe gave us the best way of developing players that actually fitted the Zulu moral. 

The whole culture was in that bible, about being a Zulu, about being AmaZulu, that’s who we are, we are the club of the nation. It [the bible] was driven towards that cultural aspects and all the positives stereotypes of the Zulu tradition. 

I even worked with people outside football so I can understand the Zulu culture better. The language we spoke wasn’t the usual football language, our language was adapted from the Zulu culture. 

One of the key ingredients that we had was ‘igugqule nge jubani’ which roughly translates to moving with speed and power. That is what our conditioning phase was called, because that’s we want our kids to do, we want powerful fast athletes and we adapted that to incorporate the Zulu culture. 

How we recruited players was based upon that, what we looked for, how we looked for it, and where we looked. We wanted players to be hungry to play for us and one of the major issues we had was every time we paid for transport, the players felt like we owed them something. As soon as the money stopped, they’d be like you owe me something. It was culture entitled, a negative thing. 

So, with the Under 13s, we created this thing of making the kids understand it’s a privilege to play for AmaZulu and we didn’t pay a single cent for transport but every kid got there. We chose the best players in the region. 

Yes, we missed a couple of players but I’m okay missing players because the ones we had were such a high caliber because that Under 13 team we had was unbeaten in three years.

Steve Bezuidenhout - AmaZulu Development Coach

BP: You must have put in a lot of work to achieve that…

SB: There was a lot of time and work put in. I’d say our youth department had the best coaches at that time. 

I was heading it up, we had Darian [Wilken], who’s now the lead analysts at Orlando Pirates. We had Thabiso Makhetha, who was head-hunted by a club in America. Khaya Gwala, who is still at AmaZulu and he’s well-respected there. We had a guy like Belux Bukasa who is a former player. We also had Russell Thompson as a goalkeeper coach and that’s someone who has worked with top players. 

That was who we had working for us at the time, that’s the kind of coaching calibre I’m talking about.

BP: You’ve worked with top coaches and you are a very qualified individual also in terms of SAFA levels. You were even shortlisted for a SAFA Technical Director position.

SB: I’m lucky enough to be developed as a coach and get education which is very important. I managed to do my Pro License, which I think I did quite well, I was with guys like Cavin Johnson and Ian Palmer. I was lucky enough to be there and do my Pro Licence. 

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the other courses as well. I’m becoming part of the SAFA instructor’s panel, I’m busy with that as well. I’ve done a course and I’m now just completing my hours and hopefully I become an instructor. 

There’s a belief that they want to fast track some instructors to becoming CAF instructors and from there you can be a FIFA instructor. I was lucky enough to be developed in that period.

BP: Lastly coach, on December 31, 2019 what would make you happy about this program you are starting with SoccerTech? What would make you say we had a good year?

SB: From a growth point of view, I’d like to be involved in one or two schools in the province. I’d like us to be involved with the big private schools Hilton or Michaelhouse. I believe those schools have real powerful change, I really do. We’d love to be involved there at some level and then we’ve got some really interesting projects that I can’t discuss. 

I would love to see the formation of the national body for school soccer that is a calendar with all these schools soaked up and possibly have a ranking system. 

But most importantly, I want us to be recognized and get the professional teams coming to us and saying we see what you’re doing, could you develop our players as well. 

Our doors are open for everyone and we would like to expand and go to other provinces.

BP: Thanks for your time, coach, I really hope things work out and we also want to see more people getting involved in development.

SB: Pleasure anytime, Banele.

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