Debate on foreign professionals a matter of evolving attitudes

22May 2020
Michael Eneza
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Debate on foreign professionals a matter of evolving attitudes

WHAT seemed to be a forgone topic, limiting the number of foreign professional players in Tanzania Premier League clubs, has been restored to centre stage lately when the responsible minister, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, was presenting estimates of his ministry’s income and expenditure projections .

Dr Harrison Mwakyembe

Fortunately he did not introduce measures right away and throw the soccer fraternity into turmoil as premier league clubs would be pushed to an imposed uniformity that is unhealthy for intense competition. At the same time, such a limitation would rule out for as long as it is retained, chances that a local club makes any progress whatsoever in the CAF Champions League and for that matter in the Confederation Cup. He only tasked top level sports organizations to discuss it.

While there are scores of pundits in the sports field who passionately support the minister’s position, and even a number of those tasked with managing football, chances of the remarks being a proper guide to discussion and the fraternity agreeing on such measures are minimal, or nil. The reason is that the proposition is backed by sentimental considerations that top clubs ought to have many local players, and the fallback position is that this way they will perform and be picked for Taifa Stars. It’s unclear if supporting pundits say Taifa Stars can improve this way.

There is at least one falsification datum that can be cited, which was given by a soccer analyst at a previous debate as the matter has been coming up from time to time in the past ten years or perhaps less. He focused on the period when Dar Young Africans (Yanga) were champions for several years, before the baton was picked by their next street rivals, Simba SC, that during that time Yanga had more foreign professionals than other clubs, and more players in the national side than others. It means that the logic of having foreign players is in inverse direction to this view.

What this datum implies is that the more there are foreign players in a premier league club, the more its other players are exposed to stiff competition, especially to obtain a regular place on the line up. The minister and those advising him see this as unfair, since local players ought to have a more direct chance of being considered for first team appearance in top level premier league clubs, and believe that such a welfare consideration is good for the sport as a whole. That is where the debate shall be directed, how far back-strapping premier league local players helps.

The fact that Jangwani Street players had a higher chance of obtaining a position in Taifa Stars than even their next door rivals Simba shows that having fewer foreign players on the club first eleven did not make its players better because of having more playing time. The concern with playing time is a mere convenience, as it skips rigor in training, to check foreign professionals.

For instance when a Simba SC defender is in training, he knows that he has to show that he can confidently check or thwart the techniques or tactics of a player like Medi Kegere, the same as other clubs when they have an encounter with the Msimbazi Street side on the cards. Learning to take care of good players from outside becomes the first task that local players have to learn, whether it is friendly tackling say of Kegere when Msimbazi Street boys are in training, or it is much less benevolent tackling from rival clubs. There, only the threat of a yellow or red card stops a defender from being visibly rough, as it could prove costly to his team’s chances too.

When one looks at the issue from a strategic point of view, there is no dispute that foreign professionals help to uplift the standard of the game in the country, first by improving the level of training. The players enable the coaches of the various premier league sides to demand effective tackling of good players – as the most favored players from outside are strikers. The weaknesses of our premier league defences are better exposed with foreign professionals than if they were playing just between themselves as in the past, thus our playing level is pushed up.

Such matters don’t merit discussion in advanced countries where inviting foreign players is not something that is frowned upon. On the contrary it is an industry here, one reason being that clubs spend a fortune on foreign players as they must be attracted to come here instead of better and more able clubs outside. Yanga for instance have never really settled since they lost their star striker Heritier Makambo, and club officials have repeatedly said they don’t have the money to buy him back. The logic is we should be making efforts to have more such players, not fewer.