No excuse for Bafana Bafana
The rules of the African Nations Championship leave no room for excuses.
CAPE TOWN - African Nations Championship (CHAN) 2014 Local Organising Committee Chief Executive Officer Mvuzo Mbebe said the theme for this year's tournament is "Celebrating Africa's home champions."
He made the comments at a press conference on Monday.
The concept of CHAN centres around the widely accepted notion that the participating countries are not allowed to select players based outside of Africa.
However, a closer inspection of the rules indicates that national teams are not allowed to call-up any player based outside of their national borders. The impact of this restriction differs across the participants at the 2014 CHAN.
For some countries, like South Africa, this restriction warrants little concern.
The country's domestic league, the Premier Soccer League (PSL), is arguably the strongest and the best managed on the African continent. In the context of CHAN, the advantage of the strength of the PSL is two-fold.
First, the pool of players available to Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund are of a comparably higher standard than the players available to other countries, by virtue of them playing week-in, week-out in Africa's strongest domestic league.
Second, the strength of the PSL has led to football stars from all over the African continent arriving on South African shores to ply their, removing themselves from contention for CHAN selection.
A good example of this is Zimbabwe, with many of their top players having come to the financially lucrative PSL in search of the riches on offer.
Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs alone have four Zimbabwean internationals in their ranks (Matthew Rusike, Kingston Nkhatha, Knowledge Musona and Willard Katsande), while Mamelodi Sundowns boast two of Zimbabwe's best players in Cuthbert Malajila and Khama Billiat.
In total, 14 regular Zimbabwean internationals were ruled out of contention for CHAN 2014 due to their involvement with PSL clubs.
Another good example is the Ivory Coast.
Regarded as Africa's best chance of success at the World Cup in Brazil later this year, the Mighty Elephants have not even qualified for the 2014 edition of the CHAN.
When one looks at the Ivory Coast squad called up for their recent World Cup qualifier with Senegal, it is easy to deduce why this is the case.
Only two players out of the 23-man squad were based in the Ivory Coast, both of whom were back-up goalkeepers to Belgium-based first choice keeper Boubacar Barry.
The rest of the squad list rolls off the tongue, with household names like Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony mixing it with the world's best in leagues across Europe on a weekly basis.
Ivory Coast's domestic Ligue 1 is dominated by ASEC Mimosas of Abidjan, who have produced the majority of Ivory Coast's stellar football exports of the last decade. The club was founded in 1948 by a consortium of Europeans and have won 60 major domestic and continental titles since their inception.
In 1993, 45 years after its founding, former French national team player Jean-Marc Guillou joined the club as director, manager and financier. He immediately established a youth academy structure and an extensive scouting network, snapping up all the best Ivorian talent on offer.
Guillou left in 2001 to manage KSK Beveren in Belgium, taking many of the best ASEC players with him to Belgium's Jupiler Pro League.
An official link was established and Beveren became the pathway for Ivorians looking to test themselves in European football.
Beveren received strong, technically sound footballers with a burning desire to prove themselves in exchange for thousands of euros in transfer fees and compensation.
This academy-link model has been emulated by several clubs in France and Belgium, greatly benefitting the Ivorian football structures and putting the Ivory Coast on the proverbial football map.
The top clubs in the Ivory Coast now function almost exclusively as finishing schools or feeder clubs for their European partners, exporting their best 16- and 17-year-old products to Europe's top leagues. Those that fail to make the grade or slip through the system, are left to battle it out in domestic leagues at home or in the rest of Africa.
Contrast the Ivorian football "business model" to South Africa's, where playing for Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates is often regarded a pinnacle for footballers, Ivory Coast's failure to qualify for CHAN is put into perspective.
The domestic league in the Ivory Coast does not have a satellite broadcast deal worth billions of rands to fund the acquisition and retention of top talent.
PSL-based stars earn exponentially more than their Ivorian-based colleagues. Those in the Ivory Coast have to earn a contract in one of Europe's top leagues to earn a comfortable living, whereas players at the top PSL clubs can become millionaires without having to leave the country.
When one considers the strength of the PSL and the comparative quality of players available for selection from the league, there really is no excuse for Bafana Bafana not to win the CHAN competition.
The majority of the best African-based players are in the PSL.
There really is no excuse for Igesund and his men.