Amid the euphoria of England's run to the World Cup semi-finals in the summer, one flaw remained evident throughout. Gareth Southgate's side were technically inferior to the world's elite teams, a truth exposed for all to see when Croatia eliminated them with a 2-1 win in the semi-finals in Moscow.
England's manager was fully aware of the deficiencies and, by selecting an even more youthful squad than usual for the behind-closed-doors Uefa Nations League game against the same opponents in Rijeka on Friday, it appears he is seeking solutions to his side's major problems. With the manager emboldened by a new contract which runs until after the 2022 World Cup, is this a significant moment in England's evolution under Southgate?
Southgate's first post-World Cup squad for the Nations League meeting with Spain at Wembley and the friendly with Switzerland at Leicester brought disappointment in some quarters as it was a safe selection showing loyalty to those who served England so well in Russia, injecting little fresh young blood.
There has been no such show of conservatism this time around, though, as Southgate's squad contains six uncapped players, including 19-year-old Mason Mount – on loan at Derby County from Chelsea – and Borussia Dortmund's 18-year-old former Manchester City attacker Jadon Sancho.
The selections of Mount and Sancho stand out – evidence that Southgate now believes he must cast a wider net; a reflection on the paucity of English talent in the Premier League that has taken him into the Championship and the Bundesliga. Mount, flourishing with regular football under Frank Lampard at Pride Park, edged out 22-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, whose decision to stay at Chelsea after figuring at the World Cup following a fine loan spell at Crystal Palace looks increasingly flawed.
Southgate showed self-confidence and assuredness when making these selections. And he currently makes decisions from a position of huge strength after signing a new contract that will take him through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Southgate has also bought himself precious time for experimentation – a word he rails against but there is surely an element of truth in it – after building a formidable fund of personal popularity in Russia, not simply because England reached the last four but also because of his own demeanour.
It is much easier for Southgate to risk the odd poor result after reaching England's first World Cup semi-final for 28 years than if they had flopped in Russia – judgements and verdicts may not have been so kind and patience not in such generous supply then. Southgate's selection also came after two very average performances in defeat by Spain at Wembley and in the narrow win against the Swiss – old failings such as lack of midfield creation were still in evidence and he has decided to act.
Southgate attacks England's Achilles heel
As England arrived in Rijeka accompanied by a glorious Croatian sunset, this new-age squad looks increasingly like a new dawn, an attempt by Southgate to solve his biggest problem. England cannot escape the brutal truth that they were badly exposed in the key midfield area when losing twice to Belgium and in the semi-final against Friday's opponents in Russia.
Southgate's England were game but uninspired, lacking in creativity in those games. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who had an excellent World Cup, and Tottenham's Eric Dier are honest journeymen at the highest international level but not creators among the elite. It is with this in mind that Southgate has grasped at the opportunity given to him by Ross Barkley's new, although admittedly brief, lease of life at Chelsea.
Barkley last played for England against Australia in May 2016 and figured in only four games last season after struggling with injury and failing to establish himself under Antonio Conte at Chelsea. He was ignored by Roy Hodgson despite being in his Euro 2016 squad, was not considered by Sam Allardyce and Southgate has steered clear until now.
Barkley's biggest faults have been decision-making and a habit of conceding possession in dangerous areas. For all the plaudits he received after scoring in Chelsea's 3-0 win at Southampton, his carelessness after coming on as substitute helped Liverpool snatch a draw at Stamford Bridge.
He is now 24 and entering the crucial phase of his career. Barkley is unquestionably capable of the creation England need – now he must take advantage of Southgate's so far fruitless search for that X-factor. Leicester City's James Maddison, uncapped and only 21, falls into the same category after an impressive start to the season following his £20m move from Norwich City, while Southgate has also taken advantage of Harry Winks' return to fitness at Spurs as another option after impressing on his debut in a World Cup qualifier in Lithuania two years ago. With Mount also in the mix, the manager has real alternatives to the old order. These are a very important few days for England's potential midfield creators of the future.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) is running without a substantive Technical Director since parting ways with South African native, Serame Letsoaka, who jumped ship midway through his contract in 2019.
This glaring revelation has left the Technical Department of the association hamstrung to fully operate by the book hence a plethora of problems protruding on the very nose of it.
This is the reason it took long for the association to take stern action against Zebras gaffer, Adel Amrouche. His departure was sanctioned at the eleventh hour when players’ patience had long wilted, threatening to leave the camp.
Pundits will therefore observe that it is the absence of a Technical Director that has caused all hell to break loose at Lekidi Football Centre.Since the departure of Letsoaka, the TD position has been more or less vacant as it has been manned by unqualified and somewhat incompetent administrators to date.
The TD position requires a CAF A-License qualification as well as a Diploma in Secondary Education as minimum qualifications. Among the specific duties of TD is; training and development of coaches, including design and updating of coaches manuals, facilitating licensing courses, developing a coaches Code of Conduct, arranging for expert and specialist coaches to deliver training clinics, education on rules of the game and creating and maintaining a library of resources including books, videos and articles for coaches to access.
The responsibility also include establishing and delivering a comprehensive and nationwide Grassroots programme at both the community level, in schools, and in the schools through clubs through strategic partnerships within the communities and with various government ministries and agencies.
TD also advices BFA on all matters related to the effective development of football in Botswana and is accountable for the development of a strategy and policy for the performance of football programmes.
Other duties include working with Youth National teams and coaches through development programmes in order to enable BFA to attain its goals within CAF and FIFA, including putting in place clear systems and processes for identifying and developing talented players.
After Letsoaka left, BFA reached out to Wire Kaelo, a Gaborone United legend currently holding the position of assistant coach at Security System FC, but eventually he was not appointed to the post.
Despite rumours to the effect that BFA had agreed terms with Kaelo to this day, the Association has not come out as to what happened to the alleged marriage.
BFA subsequently appointed one Dr Carolin Braun, on secondment from the German Olympic organisation, a move that left the association rooted in abrasive factionalism.
In particular, local coaches and the general football fanatics have always cried foul claiming that Dr Braun is not fit to hold the position of TD especially in a growing football environment like Botswana.
There is growing concern that Dr Braun does not have the pre-requisite credentials to be appointed for this plum post as she has never held any significant position within the football fraternity, not even at amateur level.
“It was a first in the history of Botswana football to see a TD doubling up as assistant coach to the senior national team and there has been no tangible coaching courses since the departure of Serame Letsoaka and this has been attributable to the vacant position of TD,” a source remarked.
BFA is currently failing to communicate CAF’s decision that the ill-fated CAF “B” and “C” courses held during Serame’s last days were not sanctioned and therefore attendants will not be certificated.
Over 50 local coaches participated in the courses and last year, most of those coaching in the Premier League had to be given waivers by the BFA Technical Committee before they could be accredited.
CAF has since indicated that the issue of waivers by national associations will not be entertained, something which might throw local games into disarray.BFA is still failing to come up with a coaching philosophy despite Serame having started groundwork before his departure.
Other countries such as Zambia have since resumed CAF coaching courses whilst in Botswana is still business as usual despite the impending challenges caused by indiscretion and lack of foresight.
Despite BFA having advertised the position of TD and subsequently holding interviews where recommendations were done by the Technical and Development Committee, the BFA NEC has refused to endorse the recommendation for reasons only best known to them.
Yet, there is a lingering fact that the NEC is clueless when it comes to technical matters. There is not even a single individual in the NEC who holds any coaching qualification including the Chairman of the member responsible for technical and development matters, Masego Ntshingane.
When asked about the position of the TD, Ntshingane said the association is well aware of the matter and will son fill the post. “Yes, it is true the association has not appointed a TD after Letsoaka’s departure, but we are working around the clock to hire capable people,” he said.
However, local coaches believe that it’s a travesty of justice to expect non-technical people to make meaningful contributions on technical matters to the extent that they can veto recommendations from a committee of renowned technical experts.
It is not business as usual in the operations manual of African football. Ever since the ascendency of Dr. Patrice Motsepe to the CAF plum post, the African football governing body is ringing changes to satisfy the demands and governance standards of the modern game.
However, it appears that what is coming out from the high offices of the game is a bitter pill to swallow for local clubs, some of which are touted to be the best in the land.
Connectedly, CAF has issued a circular to the effect that only coaches holding the CAF “A” education license will be permitted to sit on the technical dugout during the upcoming inter club competitions. This communication has been sent to all 54 CAF member associations in May 2021.
However, it seems local clubs have not been appraised on this development even though both Jwaneng Galaxy and Orapa United have shown desire to represent the country in the CAF competitions.
It comes to the fore now that the two clubs can successfully represent the country if they engage coaches with the pre-requisite qualifications which is now an insurmountable task due to the COVID-19 impact on club finances.
Both clubs have hired coaches who attended the ill-fated BFA conducted CAF “B” and “A” coaching courses which were held in Lobatse almost two years ago.
To date the coaches await the completion of the courses and certificates while CAF has made it clear that the courses were not sanctioned as they were held during the era that coaching licenses were suspended, a situation that BFA was well aware of and has since accepted the consequences.
The BFA is still at sixes and sevens on how to break the issue to the affected coaches as it is likely to cause a huge public embarrassment and backlash from the coaching fraternity.
“We all know about the problem, BFA is promising to come to the bottom of the matter as we continue to engage them,” says Botswana Football Coaches Association (BFCA) interim President, Daniel Nare.
CAF has also made it clear that this time there will be no waiver for coaches without the pre-requisite qualification because the Confederation has been too lenient in the past. During the last CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup, both Galaxy and Orapa United coaches were given a reprieve by CAF Technical Department as they did not even have the CAF “B” license.
When approached for clarity, the Spokesperson for Galaxy, Tankiso Morake said they are playing a waiting game when it comes to CAF issues especially that BFA is yet to reply to their letter. “Honestly, there is nothing concrete I can share because no one is certain about anything. We are waiting to be replied by the association so that we can finalize everything,” he said.
While United was not available for comment, it is clear that both clubs will need to hire coaches with the needed qualifications otherwise playing in this year’s edition of African football mirrors a tomorrow that may never come.
A recent study shows that Township Rollers is not only popular within the perimeters of Botswana, but has also made significant steps within the digital football platforms in Africa.
Out of the 70 African football clubs ranked on the African football digital benchmark, Township Rollers comes on the 35th position backed by a massive social media following. The club website records more than 399 000 followers and is seen as the most interactive in the local game.
This is consistent with the recent study conducted by FIFA- world football governing body- that Rollers is the only team locally that makes use of its digital platforms.
Notably, it comes out that the gap between Township Rollers and the rest of the 15 Premier League clubs is abysmal, this therefore works against creating a strong BPL brand value.
Rollers is the only club with more than 50 000 followers on Facebook, more than 20 000 followers on Twitter while its Instagram platform stands strong at 27 800 followers.
However, it is found out that much of the BPL brand value is killed by some social Facebook football fan accounts. They have stood long and have thus attracted more followers than the official accounts. Pages like Killers Pass and Botswana Football have consequently seen more than 100 000 following. Both of the accounts give 24 hour on-going updates of football’s latest news, transfers, results, video and live updates.
FIFA has therefore come to a conclusion that the two social media pages have grown interactive since they incite followers to answer and present their impressions about local football.
It comes into the open that 70 percent of domestic premier league clubs do not have official websites. This according to FIFA, kills the brand and visibility of clubs hence failure to attract lucrative sponsors by the clubs. FIFA also found out that the remaining 30 percent of clubs with websites are lacklustre and found wanting when it comes to their online presence. But in this regard, Rollers is on pole position.