Unearthing SA’s soccer talent

11 March 2008

Shona Khona – meaning “Go for it” – is a youth soccer development initiative started three years ago to develop role models among South African school children, with a special emphasis on rural and poorer communities. The SA Football Association-endorsed programme is now paying exciting dividends.

The brainchild of the former general manager of Reckitt Benckiser South Africa, Roberto Funari, Shona Khona has attracted some significant sponsors since launching in 2005.

Reckitt Benckiser began the initiative with Metro Cash & Carry. Its partners now include Premier Soccer League club Mamelodi Sundowns, Manchester United sponsors AIG, leading sports management agency ForwardZone, Imperial Motors, and The Sowetan newspaper.

How Shona Khona works
The programme gives youngsters between the ages of 10 and 16 the opportunity to take part in training camps through competitions involving specially marked household products made by Reckitt Benckiser. They SMS the lucky number found on the packaging, and numbers are drawn which allocate the winners to a training camp closest to their cities or towns.

Regional camps are held in 20 different locations across the country. At each camp, the most talented players are selected by South African Football Association (Safa) coaches and former football greats to attend a national Shona Khona weekend soccer and life-skills camp, which takes place in July each year.

This year, the special weekend camp will include the Sundowns and Manchester United Soccer Schools coaches. After the camp, a handful of the most talented children will be selected to travel to Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, for a week of training at the famous club’s facilities.

Among the successes achieved so far are five boys who were accepted into, and are currently enrolled at, the Safa/Transnet School of Excellence.

Another youngster, Sifiso Mnguni, who was discovered at the very first Shona Khona training camp, has just signed a three-year playing contract with the under-19 development team of Premier Soccer League club Platinum Stars.

However, the most exciting accomplishment was recently achieved at the Sao Paulo Futebol de Base in Brazil where, since December 2005, 24 youngsters selected by Shona Khona have undergone a week’s training.

It has become the experience of a lifetime for 12-year-old Tyroane Sandows who, after being selected to go to Brazil, so impressed Sao Paulo’s coaches that he has been signed to a three-year contract with the club.

After the three years are up, Sandows will be re-evaluated, with the prospect of being able to join the senior section of the club’s academy, which means he would then be eligible to start the process of becoming a professional soccer player in accordance with Fifa guidelines.

Moving to Brazil
“Sandows has managed to set himself apart from his peers – he continues to shine,” said Stan Whiting, Shona Khona’s project coordinator.

Since being discovered, the quiet Sandows has let his talent speak for itself. His passion and consistency is what impressed his Brazilian coaches and earned him a contract.

Sandows’ experience started with the purchase of a specially marked Reckitt Benckiser product from his local Metcash store. What seemed then a simple purchase has not only earned him the chance of a lifetime, but has also changed his family’s life; they will relocate to join the elder of their two sons in Brazil in August.

“I do not have enough words to thank you for your commitment to this project and for making Tyroane’s dreams a reality,” Sandows’ father, Joe, told the Shona Khona sponsors.

“At first it was just a wonderful weekend experience, then an incredible opportunity for Tyroane to travel to Brazil for a week, and now, nearly two years later, we are on our way to actually live in Brazil.”

Opportunities in England
The opportunities for talented youngsters will shift from a South American powerhouse, Sao Paulo, to an English powerhouse, Manchester United, in 2008, and project co-ordinator Whiting is excited about the impact Shona Khona is making.

“By taking the training and life-skills camps into communities, Shona Khona is able to reach more children than ever before,” Whiting said. “And with AIG on board, the most talented children will have the chance to travel to the UK, Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, where they will receive a week of world-class football training.”

The national soccer camp, featuring the best of the best from the community-based camps, will give coaches from the Manchester United Schools programme and the Mamelodi Sundowns technical team a chance to put the youngsters through their paces, with various skills and training drills covering all aspects of the game of soccer. These will provide the coaches and other selectors a chance to make a qualified decision about the players.

During the camps, the learners will also take part in life-skills education sessions designed to be interactive and fun.

Shona Khona is set to continue up to and beyond the 2010 Fifa World Cup, which will be hosted by South Africa. If its successes are anything to go by, South Africa will have players to answer the call to “shona khona” in tournaments well beyond 2010.

SAinfo reporter

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