Someone asked what the right age is for a player to play in the first team of a football club, especially the big three, Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns. It got me thinking about how little faith we have in our youngsters in this country.
Lionel Messi played at the 2006 World Cup at the age of 19. Cesc Fabregas shot into Arsenal's first team at the age of 16. Wayne Rooney made Manchester United's first team at the age of 18. Cristiano Ronaldo played for Manchester United at 17. Neymar is now 21 and will be in Barcelona's first team. Ryan Giggs and Gerard Pique were 18 when they made their respective debuts for Manchester United. Oscar, Jack Wilshere, Mario Gotze, Lucas Moura... I can go on and on.
The younger a player is when he experiences the big stage, the better he will develop. In South Africa we see 24-year olds as "still too young". What? At 22 Messi had already won the FIFA Ballon d'Or. A good player must make the first team of a big club before the age of 20. They need to be given a chance so that by the time they are in their early 20s, they are well established key players for their respective teams. This trend of players only becoming stars at age 27 or 28 must come to an end.
Our youngsters must get thrown into the deep end. That is what happens all around the world. Look at how well Itumeleng Khune has developed. I think he was about 20 years old when he made his debut for Chiefs.
It's high time we enforce a responsibility on our youngsters' shoulders. I want to see South Africa playing at junior championships like the under-20 World Cup. Maybe the Premier Soccer League (PSL) must enforce that every team in the PSL must have one or two local under-20 players in their squads, and they must be given game time.