Declining Zim quota in SA top-flight football: A disaster and a blessing in one package

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Over the years, the South African top-flight has provided Zimbabwean players with a second option to pursue their careers.

The higher standards, better remuneration and top football facilities have, for years, acted as main attractions to a host of locals.

There was a time when almost every team in the South African Premiership had a Zimbabwean in its books, while several clubs would jostle to sign up more local players.

The transfer season itself dished out intrigue, with rumours and deals attracting broad coverage.

One can easily relate this to Kaizer Chiefs’ unexpected signing of little-known Knowledge Musona, who hadn’t played football in Zimbabwe’s top-flight and Khama Billiat’s European links from 2016-19.

Musona, then 19 years old, would become a revelation in his debut campaign and be crowned SA PSL’s Young player of the season in 2010. He also bagged the Golden Boot award a year later with fifteen goals.

Just twelve months ago, there was too much talk about Willard Katsande’s next destination after he confirmed the end of his decade-long stay at Amakhosi.

The year is 2022, and the transfer season in South Africa has opened, but there is a lot amiss.

There is a forecast that the Zimbabwean contingent in the DSTV Premiership could shrink significantly ahead of the coming season.

During the 2021/22 term, seventeen players were registered in the Mzansi top-flight, down from twenty-seven two years prior. From the afore-mentioned class, only five were consistent, with more than twenty appearances across all competitions in the season.

The poor performance from the other parties has prompted their respective clubs to deem them as excess baggage.

Sekhukhune United recently parted ways with goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini and strikers Evans Rusike and Charlton Mashumba. Kudakwashe Mahachi and goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze became free agents on Thursday, while MacClive Phiri is back in the country after struggling on the southern side.

Marumo Gallants goalkeeper Washington Arubi, and SuperSport United defender Onismor Bhasera, also have their contracts expired, and their clubs are yet to confirm anything.

In what has become a trend in recent windows, most of these released players would then join the lower divisions to avoid moving back to the impoverished local premiership.

The National First Division (NFD) and third-tier ABC Motsepe League have become the preferred destinations, with several Zimbabweans like goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda, Talent Chawapiwa, Blessing Sarupinda and Edmore Chirambadare rushing there to relaunch their careers.

The move is a brilliant strategy if going for personal gains but seems to be a disaster for the nation’s sake.

Not so long ago, the South African top-flight provided a sizeable chunk of foreign-based players in the national team squad, and the Warriors could go toe to toe with any rival in the region.

But with a larger pool emerging in the NFD, the grades look to drop, and so can be the quality of the entire South Africa-based contingent.

Nevertheless, the decreasing quota can be a blessing in disguise for our football.

The local league has lost several star players over the years, which has affected its growth.

As such, sponsors have often shied away due to low interest from fans not being happy with the lack of quality.

In 2013 when Adidas struck deals with Highlanders and Dynamos, the two clubs’ principal financer BancABC tried to push the German sportswear manufacturer to start sponsoring local players.

However, the move hit a brick wall after Adidas expressed concerns over the outflux of top-quality players once they get an opportunity to cross the Limpopo.

A similar case happened with pay-tv service SuperSport TV, which didn’t want to invest more in the local game.

The now-defunct Kwese Sports also ignored calls to purchase the broadcast rights for the league but instead decided to pursue those for the South African -football, which they eventually lost to SuperSport.

With some financial assistance from the government, the Zimbabwe PSL can retain its top players and help improve the local game.

And by the time things get to normal on all corners, the country would be steps ahead, like what the Eastern nations of Ethiopia and Tanzania have done in retaining the local talent.