Where to from here?

The following is an opinion piece on the state of football in the country.

20 May 2019 | Sports

For all local football's claims to be the biggest sport in Namibia, it has never won a match at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals and has failed to qualify for the Fifa World Cup. Somehow, the people's game in Namibia has not reached the heights that was anticipated. Y

et this means there are still new lands for football to conquer.

The African club championships (African safari) has always been the domain of North African clubs and only in recent times have teams in the sub-region become competitive. Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and TP Mazembe come to mind. If hyperbole was inescapable, their relative success has vindicated optimism about local football's capacity for growth.

Our beloved African Stars participated in the 2018/19 CAF Champions League for the first time after a long while in the wilderness. This wilderness was not African Stars' doing or any other team in Namibia, but because of the unconducive environment prevailing in Namibian football at that time.

We will come back to this later on.

The 'African safari' was a deliberate intent on the part of the African Stars management under the tutelage of our astute chairman, Patrick Kauta. The collective view was taken after giving consideration to the following questions: What can we do to revive domestic football? Can we sustain a competitive Brave Warriors without a competitive domestic league?

We answered these questions by beating Volcano Club de Moroni from the Comoros Island in the preliminaries and booking a date with South Africa's Orland Pirates. In the first leg against Pirates in Johannesburg we held our own and came away with a credible 0-0 draw. It was a big task for the boys on the field and they responded to the clarion call of putting the Reds from Windhoek back on the African football map.

Ivan Kamberipa gave a performance that will change his life, Ronald 'Stigga' Ketjijere rolled back the years, Tjiuana ua Tjinotjiua gave a combative right-back performance, Aubrey Amseb and Image Isaacks dazzled in the middle of the park. In the fullness of time we will come to appreciate what this will mean to the archives.

Okaserandu, the pride and joy of our people, during the good and bad times, the departed elders on whose wisdom we relied upon, used to tell us that there are two things that the Otjiherero people don't differ on, namely the great Chief Hosea Kutako and our beloved team African Stars.

Back to the business. The second leg in Windhoek was a watershed for our football as the Okaserandu faithful filled the Sam Nujoma Stadium to the rafters. It was cool Saturday with clouds hovering and the gods preparing for two traditional teams to do battle. If time could stand still, this would have been a fitting occasion. Unfortunately, we lost to a soft goal bundled over by Justin Shonga from Zambia. We came so close, yet so far, and tears alone could not tell the whole story.

We moved on to the CAF Confederation Cup where we had to face the might of North Africa in Rajah Casablanca and we lost 2-1 on aggregate over two legs. Marrakesh was a baptism of fire, but we came out with our heads held high. Namibian football is back. Did we learn from the African safari? Yes. Will we do it again? Yes.

Where to from here?

The Brave Warriors have qualified for the Afcon 2019 in Egypt and it appears we do it in 10-year cycles - the golden generation of 1998 and 2008, and the current team under Ricardo Mannetti.

Football is currently being run by a normalisation committee and they will eventually have to give the reigns to a substantive structure that will lead football to its rightful place. If truth be told, on the field of play football has overachieved and taken on a life of its own, but management cannot be left to the imagination of the unsuspecting.

The incoming leadership at Soccer House should sell us their vision that the country can buy into, in order to propel us to new heights. Peter Shalulile and Deon Hotto should be playing in Europe, Benson Shilongo is busy setting Egypt alight and Petrus Shitembi has taken his Warriors form to the Zambian league. Combine this with the emerging talents of Ivan Kamberipa, the 18-year-old Mbakondja Tjahikika from Eleven Arrows and Deon Tjizumaue from Tigers. The talent is there, but it is the packaging of this product that will take us to greater heights.

In conclusion, we need a visionary leadership at Soccer House, we need Namibian teams to compete in African competitions and corporate Namibia will have to pump money into football, so that we can have a product that all of us will be proud of. We will start qualifying for Afcon more frequently and start exporting Collin Benjamins and Rassie Tjikuzus again. The future is bright.

*Salomo Hei is the executive director of African Stars.

Salomo Hei

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