FORMER Liverpool and England international, John Barnes, who arrived in Dar es Salaam on Thursday for a series of coaching clinics for Tanzanian youth players, did not take time to tell Tanzanians what they needed to do if they wanted to take on the best in soccer in the world.
Immediately he touched down at the Julius Nyerere International Airport, Barnes told sports reporters that soccer success lay in developing future stars from their tender age. What is however, very disappointing about Tanzanians is that they did not need the former Liverpool and England international to be told what they were told on Thursday.
Tanzanians have known the importance of investing in the youth from as far back as 1970s when multiple league champions, Young Africans, had engaged a Romanian coach who has since turned into an American citizen, Professor Victor Stanculescus, as their chief coach. Young Africans brought the Romanian to Dar es Salaam following their one month training tour in Romania. When the man arrived in Tanzania, he was told in his face by Young Africans officials that included at the time Billy Bandawe, that his job was to train the senior team.
The Young Africans leadership laid accent in training the senior team that included players such as Kitenge, Boi Wickens, Kitwana Manara, Omar Kapera, Elias Michael to name just a few because Professor Victor had insisted about building a new team.
However, after he was told in no uncertain terms what he was supposed to do, the Romanian devised a training programme that would also include his plan to establish a completely new team.
He promised the Young Africans leadership that he would do both and asked them to bring him as many children as possible. In the following days, Dar es Salaam children simply poured at the Jangwani playing fields which had, during the time, soccer pitches for all powerful soccer clubs in the city.
Professor Victor’s search for talent among Dar es Salaam children started at 1pm and ended at 4pm when training for the senior team would start. Every day, the Romanian coach would organise between four and six matches involving children from different parts of the city in order to get players he thought had the requisite soccer talent.
Some of his talent search techniques included asking each and every child to show him ball control skills. After a month or so, the Romanian had his 30 plus players to officially launch his soccer academy.
And within the first six months, Professor Victor had the first U-15 that played the kind of soccer that had never been seen in Tanzania. Young Africans arch soccer rivals, Sunderland Sports Club who would in the same year, 1970, be directed by the government to get a local name, followed Young Africans’ footsteps.
But their soccer academy was not as well organised as that of the Romanian coach. The difference between Professor Victor’s Yanga Kids with that of Simba lay in age range with the latter’s players being slightly older than Yanga Kids.
Although by 1971 Professor Victor’s Yanga Kids were playing far better than the senior team, Young Africans’ leadership would not allow the Yanga Kids to replace the senior team. Yet whenever the senior team took on Professor Victor’s Yanga Kids in training, they would lose by not less than five goals.
Meanwhile Young Africans continued to dominate, in the local league, their soccer arch rivals, Simba. However, things changed in 1973, when Simba brought up a completely new team, laden with youth, mostly under 20 and students.
Simba who were led by one retired soccer player, Arthur Mambeta, had players such as Willy Mwaijibe and Michael Sentalah from St Joseph Secondary school, Abdallah Mwinyimkuu from Shycom Shinyanga and Kajole just to mention a few.
The foregoing team would go on to dethrone Young Africans by one goal to nil in a historic match played at the Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam in April 1973. But had the Young Africans’ leadership had faith in their Yanga Kids, Simba would not have had a chance in 1973.
Perhaps the saddest story about Yanga Kids is that the bulk of the team would never live to play for Young Africans. Most members of the team went on to play for an offshoot from the club, Pan African, following a telling crisis at the club in 1975.
That in a way, explains why Pan African would later dominate the country’s soccer scene for many years.
Therefore, having witnessed the exploits of Yanga Kids in 1970s before even the onset of establishment of soccer academies in the world, Tanzanians should have been the last people to be lectured on the importance of developing soccer from tender age.
Had we learnt from Professor Victor, we wouldn’t have been where we are today as far as soccer and sports in general is concerned. It’s my hope that this time around we are going to take John Barnes’ advice very seriously.
- Attilio Tagalile is a journalist/ author and media consultant based in Dar es Salaam and can be contacted through tagalileattilio@yahoo. co.uk