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SA football needs its own Muhammad Ali

08 June 2016, 22:29 S'Busiso Mseleku

News of the passing away of Muhammad Ali shook the globe on the weekend.

The greatest sportsman ever succumbed to Parkinson's Syndrome after being diagnosed way back in 1984.

You might be wondering what brings Ali into a soccer column.

From being known as "The Louisville Lip" in the early days of his career, the pugilist rose to being known as "The Greatest", a nickname he gave himself after demolishing Sonny Liston to become a youngest world heavyweight aged 22.

But to answer the question on what Ali is doing in what is supposed to be a soccer column, I'll borrow from one of the boxer's greatest adversaries, George Foreman.

When the interviewer, in the documentary "Champions Forever" referred to Ali as the "greatest boxer ever", "Big George" quipped: "It is unfair to refer to Ali as the greatest boxer ever, he is the greatest athlete ever."

And therein lies the gist of my opinion piece.

You see, Ali did not just revolutionise boxing, he shook the entire sporting spectrum as well as the society with his speed, athleticism but mostly with his sharp tongue towards his opponents as well as his strong opinions on current affairs.

As a result, Ali brought many changes in sport and society at large. Many boxers and American sports people from different codes, still credit him for the big bucks they earn.

Ali started the culture of negotiating his own purse. Prior to that, boxers used to accept anything offered to them by unscrupulous promoters.

To put it simply, boxers and sports people at large were robbed blind by promoters and organisers of different sporting events.

In the state it is in, South African football could do with a player like Muhammad Ali.

A player who will stand out as a brand. Make people want to go to stadiums in their droves to watch him lead his club - and Bafana Bafana - to great heights.

A player who will rise when the chips are down, not only emerge and rise to the top by showboating when his club is three or four goals to the good.

A player who will not kow-tow to the powers that be, but take up his and fellow players' issues with no fear or favour.

The current crop of players are so scared of soccer bosses that most accept crumbs and unfavourable contracts because they are so intimidated and worried about losing the little that comes their way.

We need a player who will be vocal, but also be able to back it up on the field of play.

A player that clubs will fall all over themselves to have in their squads because they know he will deliver the goods and is the kind of player you can build the club around.

We have had such players in the past.

The late Patrick "Ace" Ntsoelengoe comes to mind. A great player, with vision, a cultured foot who would not bow to the nonsense of European coaches who tried to turn him into a player he wasn't.

Other individuals who come to mind are Kaizer Motaung and Jomo Sono.

Motaung's rebel nature saw him leave Orlando Pirates when they had chased away several of his team-mates.

When he could not convince the club to take the expelled players back, he left in solidarity with his team-mates and so Kaizer Chiefs, who started out as a selection team called Kaizer's XI, was born.

And look what a giant Chiefs have become today.

The same Motaung was part of the movement that led to the formation of the National Soccer league (NSL, the predecessor to today's Premier Soccer League (PSL) that broke away from the National Professional Soccer League that had become a law unto itself with clubs having no say.

Sono not only left Pirates, but bought his own club, Highlands Park, whom he renamed Jomo Cosmos.

He has been rebellious since his playing days, leading to him been given the moniker of "Troublemaker". He rebelled against many a coach and a Pirates administration when he did not agree.

This came out strongly when he ran his own club and many credit him for the gate-taking sharing system that today sees the home team keeping all the money.

It was Sono, way back in the late 1980s who collected and took off with all the gate money in a match his club hosted against Chiefs at the Vosloorus Stadium.

This caused a huge stir in soccer circles, but when the PSL was formed in 1996 it was adopted as a model.

We do need a Muhammad Ali to revolutionise football, shake it from its current comatose and take it to the next level.

Rest in Peace Muhammad Ali!

S'Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning over 30 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

- Sport24


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