Chiefs, Pirates turn to youth to rekindle former glories

Wiseman Meyiwa (17) is one of five players to have been promoted to Kaizer Chiefs first team this season, but the first to make an impression. Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix

Failures in the transfer market by Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs have seen the Soweto giants take what for them is unusual steps ... looking to their own youth structures for fresh talent.

A pair of 17-year-olds, Lyle Foster at Pirates and Wiseman Meyiwa at Chiefs have debuted in this campaign and in their first few outings have impressed.

Indeed, their performances have been so impressive it is difficult to believe they are so young.

You can count on one hand the number of players Chiefs and Pirates have used in the last few seasons that have come through their development systems, with both clubs instead choosing to buy in talent.

But as they are out-gunned in the transfer market by the likes of Mamelodi Sundowns, Bidvest Wits and SuperSport United these days, they have had to turn back to their own structures.

Both should have thriving conveyor-belts of talent pumping out the best talent in the country given their resources and status in the domestic game.

There was a time that most youngsters growing up in South Africa only wanted to play for either Chiefs or Pirates, and getting this talent was a simple bun-fight between the two.

But those days are gone, now money talks and the centre of power in that regard is elsewhere in the PSL.

Chiefs promoted as many as five players to their first team for this season. Along with midfielder Meyiwa they also officially brought in goalkeeper Bruce Bvuma, the 22-year-old who had debuted in the last campaign amidst a gloveman crisis at the club.

And then there was 23-year-old midfielder Khotso Malope (who has also since debuted after two loan spells away from the club), Nkosingiphile Ngcobo (17) and Yusuf Bunting (21) in an unprecedented infusion of youth.

Meyiwa, a full South African international if you include the African Nations Championship qualification campaign earlier this year to his exploits with the national U-17 and U-20 teams, has been the stand-out among those.

"What led us to take the decision [to play him] is the quality he gives," coach Steve Komphela told reporters after his scoring debut against Cape Town City. "The boy is fearless. Sometimes on the training ground he comes like a 30-year-old, very aggressive.

"When you have 'Mido' [George Maluleka], [Willard] Katsande and you have Meyiwa, they go for a challenge and you get the same thing, I don't look at age. The boy is quite confident, a great character and it's nice to have that. He does the same thing Katsande would do at any given time."

Komphela says he will be making sure not to over-expose Meyiwa in his first full campaign though.

"The only thing one can wish for is just to help the kid. Let's all protect him. Sometimes exposure depends on how we handle it, but we have systems at Chiefs, which are solid.

"The boy comes from a very good upbringing and in terms of cultural definition of our people in South Africa, he comes from traditionally high respecting people and very humble.

"I hope he maintains the same, but I am happy for him and for the club as well."

Meanwhile, striker Lyle Foster laid on the winner for Thabo Qalinge as Pirates beat Cape Town City this month, with his debut coming just days after his 17th birthday.

His coach, Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic, says that he does not look at the players' age, but rather his ability.

"He is a small one by age, but has the right mind-set and a readiness to work hard and become a better player," Sredojevic said following the debut of his new young striker.

"It is a responsibility for all of us senior players to accept him and we will give him a chance. I told him that if things are bad, I will take the blame. If things are good, take all the credit. Just don't let yourself down.

"We can't afford to lose him because he is still young, so it's important for us to create an environment where he can play his natural game. It's important for a young player like him to take this all in, enjoy his time and each moment, and express himself freely. We will help him to extract that quality that can make him a complete player."

Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza has such high hopes for Foster that he has mentioned him in the same breathe as some of the club's, and South African football's, all-time greats.

"Some of the best footballers in the country has ever produced have donned this jersey," he told Foster when confirming his promotion following a trip with the South African under-20 team to England.

"The likes of [Percy] 'Chippa Chippa' Moloi, [interim Chippa United coach] Teboho's father, he was one of the best. That's why you see his picture on the walls. Together with many names like Jomo Sono and Kaizer Motaung, these players made an impact at this club and left their mark," said Dr Khoza.

"At 17 years of age, you join a group of players that includes Jomo, who made history by being among the youngest ever signed by this club."