The Bidvest Wits’ youth academy has been key to the club’s continued rise in the local game, writes HENRY FAGAN in SoccerClub magazine.
The Clever Boys finished last season as runners-up to Mamelodi Sundowns after battling the eventual league winners until the very end. Gavin Hunt’s side show no signs of letting up and, backed by an academy that continues to filter through top-class talent, observers of the local game believe it’s a case of when, and not if, the Students will claim PSL glory.
In recent seasons, the Bidvest Wits academy has arguably become the best in the country – no mean feat when one considers the production lines of Ajax Cape Town and SuperSport United. At present, no less than 11 first-team stars progressed through the youth structure into the senior team, including influential wing Phumlani Ntshangase. Darren Keet, who rejoined the club from KV Kortrijk in July, and Lebogang Phiri (Brondby) also have Wits to thank for grooming their careers as young stars.
The Wits academy begins at U13 level and continues through the U15, U17 and U19 ranks. The club takes a holistic approach to the youngsters’ careers. They are not only trained by specialist youth coaches, but their education is also an important focus, to give them a solid all round foundation.
Players are expected to work their way through the age groups before attempting to earn a professional contract with the club. There is always the possibility, though, that age can be thrown out of the window if the player is good enough, as was the case with Grade 11 youngster Shungu Dutiro (right).
The 17-year-old was awarded a contract with the Clever Boys after shining at the Future Champs U17 tournament last May, where Wits failed at the final hurdle against Spanish side Atletico Madrid, who lifted the trophy after a closely contested 1-0 win in the final.
The strength of the Wits’ academy is reflected by its players’ prevalence in South Africa’s various youth national teams. At U20 level, no less than six Wits players have been selected in the South Africa squad for the Caf African Youth Championships, including Reeve Frosler, Sanele Tshabalala, Luvuyo Mkatshana, Sibongakonke Mbatha, Sizwe Twala and Liam Jordan. Only SuperSport United contributed more players to the squad.
At SA U23 level, Tebogo Moerane and Ntshangase have become mainstays in the squad, with the duo adding Cosafa Cup success to their growing CVs.
The secret of the academy’s success lies not just in the quality of the coaches, and players within its ranks, but also in the mentality the club instils. In the past, Wits has been guilty of living in the shadow of South Africa’s big three, but in recent times the Clever Boys have dropped that fear factor and good results have followed.
It is this newfound confidence, which has seen the club raise its expectations and the players up their level of performance, that will see the Clever Boys becoming a force to be reckoned within the top echelons of local football.
– This article first appeared in issue 72 of SoccerClub magazine.