Monday, 4 January 2016

The South African transfer window: is it open or is it broken?

Forgotten man: Tenda Ndoro at Orlando Pirates
THE official PSL account on twitter announced it proudly at exactly 8am this morning: “The domestic transfer window is officially open.”

After that, just the creak of that opening window and tumbleweed blowing through the league’s offices in Parktown until the closing of a slightly cracked window at 5pm on Friday, January 29.

Sadly, the South African transfer system appears to be broken. Or at the very least, in need of a thorough clean. Every six months we talk about big moves that SHOULD happen, how our R9m record fee SHOULD be broken, how Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates SHOULD have enough money for a match-winner.

But it simply doesn’t happen. In fact, since Mamelodi Sundowns stopped spending Patrice Motsepe’s billions two seasons ago, our transfer market has become something of a joke.

While the rest of the football-speaking world lashes out record-breaking millions, the best a PSL club has ever managed was the reputed R9m Sundowns played Ajax Cape Town for Khama Billiat in August 2013.

In current terms, R9m amounts to about 400,000 British pounds. Even third tier clubs pay more than that in Europe. Remember, when they were still a Championship club, Bournemouth paid 2.5m (R70m) for Bafana Bafana striker Tokelo Rantie in August 2013, around the same time Billiat was leaving Cape Town for Tshwane. And he’s played 10mins in the Premier League this season.

The enormous fees paid in Europe cannot be matched in Africa... but the collapse of South Africa's fee-system remains a staggering but unwritten sensation.

There are obvious players who SHOULD demand more than R9m in the PSL today. Siphelele Ntshangase languishes with NFD club Black Leopards, teenager Phakamani Mahlambi and his Bidvest Wits team-mate Sibusiso Vilakasi should be tempting the Soweto giants.

And for lesser fees, Tendai Ndoro, Thabo Qalinge, David Zulu and Lehlohonolo Majoro are among the obvious targets as they warm benches at Pirates and Chiefs. And then you have the current PSL top scorers, Daine Klate and Collins Mbesuma, two men let go by the big clubs, plying their trade with significant success for Wits and Mpumalanga Black Aces.

So will we see a big transfer swoop this window? Probably not. In South Africa, coaches are rarely allowed to splash out money like they are in Europe. Here, technical directors and general managers do the deals directly with agents.

As I have documented here many times, Stuart Baxter left Chiefs because Bobby Motaung would not allow him a say on recruitment after last season's record breaking PSL title triumph. James Keene, the English journeyman who trialled brightly at Naturena, has just been snapped up by Gavin Hunt and Jose Ferreira at big-spending minnows Wits a year after Chiefs refused to make a move.

The problem is the agent/club link. Transfer fees are seen as money "wasted" when it can be split between the officials involved in the deal. The days of small clubs part-funding themselves with transfer fees from the giants appear to be over.

That’s why Tim Sukazi, currently the most successful agent in South Africa thanks to his strong links to national coach Shakes Mashaba, shifted his players around a year ago. Tshepo Gumede and Siyabonga Mpontshane went to Orlando Pirates while Tlou Segolela went the other way to Platinum Stars. All three were presented as BIG SIGNINGS but in truth, it was a swap deal which has resulted in very little for either club but a nice slice of the pie for everyone involved except the clubs.

When Kaizer Chiefs top scorer Mandla Masango and PSL player of the season Tefu Mashamaite were not given new contracts after winning the championship last year, neither of them could find a local club willing to step in. Incredibly, they both had to decamp to Scandinavia to get a game.

Meanwhile, Kaizer Chiefs announced the "big transfers" of Siyanda Xulu, Keegan Ritchie, Daniel Cardoso, Camaldine Abraw (amid some controversy), Bongani Ndulula, Edward Manqele and, later, an unknown Ugandan called Sula Matovu.

Oh, and they also tried to present Sibongiseni Ngcobo and Andisiwe Mtsila, two “academy” lads, as new signings, along with Lucky Baloyi, because he hadn’t gone out on loan. And, finally, they did a new deal with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, clearly on Bobby's terms.

Go through those names. Look for the transfer fees. Try to guess the salaries. These weren’t transfers, these were deals struck between Bobby Motaung and various agents. Neither the out-going Stuart Baxter nor new coach Steve Komphela had any say.

In truth, the European-style transfer swoop is dead in South Africa. That magical, morale-boosting grab, like Petr Cech going to Arsenal for £10million or Anthony Martial to Manchester United for £36million just won’t happen.

There is no transparency in our transfer market. Just as the PSL refuses to give us crowd figures, so we are denied ANY INSIGHT in to fees or salaries. Fans and journalists alike work in the dark. We know the big clubs have plenty of money - Vodacom, Carling and Absa offer millions - but we have no idea where it goes.

While the fans rush around talking in excited tones about Vilakazi going to Kaizer Chiefs after Bobby Motaung (illegally) said he wants to go, the agents are shifting around New Zealanders (five at the last count) and age-cheating journeymen in deeply dodgy dealings with the likes of Motaung and Screamer Tshabalala while their chairmen are given sketchy details.

SuperSport United led the way in the last window. Dean Furman, Bongani Khumalo and Michael Boxall all arrived from foreign fields (along with a couple of others from Down Under) and we all knew money was being spent but HOW MUCH? And WHY? Mike Makaab, fashionable when Gordon Igesund was Bafana coach, is now Stanley Matthews' best pal, along with a chap called Glyn Binkin, architect of such memorable deals as Katlego Mphela and Morgan Gould to Chiefs.

Just as South African football craves disappearing spray, goal-line technology, disciplinary reviews and referee assessments (and less mid-season breaks), so we need a transfer market that we can all see and appreciate.

Watch closely as this January transfer window saga unfolds. Look for real, serious signings designed to lift a club out of the doldrums. Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates get R50m a year from Vodacom. They should both be spending, given their current positions. Both coaches Steve Komphela and Eric Tinkler are under huge pressure... yet they have no say in who comes and goes.

R10m for Vilakazi, Ntshangase, Abbubaka Mobara or Mahlambi should be possible. Ndoro, Majoro, David Zulu and Ndulula should find new homes. But if certain people don’t get their cut, it won’t happen. If the right agent isn’t wandering around outside the gate with his cell phone, players will remain unhappy and unfulfilled. And so will the fans.

And we’ll end up with more mysterious moves of no-name foreigners and has-beens. 

Record-breaking transfers? Exciting last-minute deals? We can only hope. You have been warned.

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