Science behind squad selection

Dr Nasief van der Schyff and coach Boebie Solomons.

National squad selection is always a highly contentious issue, but it does not have to be, if proper scientific method are followed, says Dr Nasief van der Schyff, chairman of Safa Cape Town’s Medical and Sports Science Committee.

Dr Van der Schyff said the purpose of the medical and sports science committee is to assist Safa Cape Town with scientific knowledge and best practice.

He said the committee, in partnership with Englands Professional Scouts Association, has organised an online football talent identification seminar. The seminar included various sessions and a wide-range of local soccer experts.

“South Africa is blessed with an abundance of talented football players,” Van der Schyff said.

“Many will argue that we have some of the most naturally talented players in Africa and possibly the world.

“However, the abundance of talent and resources at our disposal is not reflected in South Africa’s lowly 71st position on the FIFA rankings. This is partly due to the lack of an objective and modern talent identification system in our country,” he said.

The ongoing north versus south debate when it comes to the selection, has many followers of the game questioning the process.

It is no secret that, when it comes to the national football team Bafana Bafana, the bulk of the players are from Gauteng province. This has been the case since re-admission in the early 1990s and there are many theories around this, ranging from talent, popularity and even bias, depending on which side of the fence you are on, and who you are talking to.

“Cape Town, on the other hand, has also produced some of the country’s finest players, including Bafana Bafana’s all-time top scorer Benni McCarthy, the late Anele Ngcongca and many others, yet it still struggles to dominate the national team when it comes to playing personnel.

“Talent identification is the critically important first step in the process to develop world-class football teams,” said Van der Schyff.

Whether it be identifying players for high performance, LFA, regional or national junior teams, getting it right upfront is the critically important first step,” he said.

The soccer doc said the seminar was well received by the local football community and that the first session attracted 166 participants on the Zoom call and a further 600 people followed on Facebook.

He said the success of the seminar was largely thanks to the input of former Santos coach Abubakaar “Boebie” Solomons and the legendary Duncan Crowie, former Santos goal ace and former head of youth at the now-defunct Ajax Cape Town.

Safa-Cape Town president Bennett Bailey said the association decided to bring these experts together in an attempt to ensure that players were selected on merit.

“Football and sport in general should be about fairness and doing justice to the players. We therefore want players to be selected on merit. The academics, for instance, will tell you that they have better players who should get first preference when it comes to selection.

That is a problem and it means that we need scientific evidence when selecting the best players,” he said.

That, he said, is where the experts, including medical doctors, come in.

“Football is a team sport, some players are good and talented but the problem is that they only produce individual brilliance, which sometimes doesn’t succeed in a team environment. So, these experts look at what a player can offer the team,” he said.

“Dr Van der Schyff and I were analysing under-15 football. I told him that, if you look carefully, selectors tend to go for bigger and taller players when it comes to picking players. The justification has always been that these players are better suited to compete against players from other African countries.

“That was not entirely true and that is why we decided to look at talent holistically, not just a player’s physical aspects,” he said.

Solomons, who facilitated the scouting programme, concurred, saying that often more deserving players were not getting selected.

Solomons, a seasoned professional coach with unquestionable credentials, said laying proper foundation early on is important in any player’s development.

“We need to polish these rough diamonds so that, when the time is right, they are able to fit into the national team setup,” he said.