South African football journalist Wright Mbongo takes a look at his country's European-based players and asks if any are capable of matching the success of legends Benni McCarthy and Lucas Radebe.
In the last decade, I would struggle to name any South African players making their names in Europe's top leagues.
Today I can’t offer one player I believe did or is doing what Benni McCarthy and Lucas Radebe achieved back in the day.
The only real star is Everton’s Steven Pienaar, who has been consistent since arriving in the Premier League, despite his struggles at Tottenham Hotspur before his return to Merseyside - where he is a fans' favourite.
The other player that I can say will reach his peak in Europe is Thulane Serero of Ajax Amsterdam.
I am highlighting these two players because I believe they’re the two consistently proving themselves at the highest level in Europe.
But can I compare them with Benni McCarthy, Lucas Radebe or Quinton Fortune, let alone Gary Bailey, the former Manchester United goalkeeper?
Steven Pienaar played for two giants of Europe in Borussia Dortmund and Ajax Amsterdam, but he hasn’t really come close to what Benni McCarthy achieved when he was with Porto in 2004, leading the Portuguese giants to Uefa Champions League glory.
Lucas Radebe captained Leeds United in the 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 seasons where The Whites went on to qualify for Europe in two successive years. He became a fans’ favourite, leaving a legacy behind at Elland Road. The former South Africa international was granted a testimonial match when he returned home in 2005.
Manchester United are regarded the most successful club in the world and South Africa was proud to have their star midfielder Quinton Fortune representing the flag at Old Trafford. But now gone are those days when South Africa had star players dominating the headlines.
When these three players were competing, South Africa was ranked below 50 in world and below 10 in Africa rankings. Now it is a different story, as the Rainbow Nation find themselves at around 70th in the rankings. In contrast, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Ghana all have many of their players on the books of giant European clubs.
We have a goalkeeper I once believed would go to all the way and play for a big club - just as Bailey did at United.
Rowen Fernandez was a star for Kaizer Chiefs fans before making a big move to German side Arminia Bielefeld. But he failed to make his mark and was soon back in South Africa. Fernandez had everything on his side when he left South Africa in 2007, the age, experience and the height was a good one for a goalkeeper. But it just didn't happen for him.
There is Kagisho Dikgacoi, who is playing for Crystal Palace in England at the moment, a player who is improving and looking to follow the path of Mark Fish, once of Middlesbrough and Bolton Wanderers. The box to box midfielder has cemented his place at the Selhurst Park, but I will be happy if he joins a team that will offer him a chance to play for silverware.
Thulani Serero is playing at Ajax Amsterdam, a team that offers him Uefa Champions League football. Christian Eriksen left for Tottenham Hotspur in summer, so this is the best chance for the youngster to show the manager what he is capable of. Age in still on his side, and a move to the Premier League is still on the cards if he cements his place at Ajax in the next two years.
Doncaster Rovers’ Dean Furman, Tokelo Rantie of Bournemouth and another Doncaster Rovers player, Bongani Khumalo, are others who still have a chance to make it in England’s top flight or rival European leagues. Bongani Khumalo can learn from Kagiso Dikgacoi who arrived in England from South Africa to join Fulham before going down to the Championship to help the Eagles to their promotion before signing permanently.
Bongani Khumalo, a former South Africa captain, signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 2011, but failed to live up to expectations was farmed out on loan before joining Championship side Doncaster Rovers last summer.
A return to Spurs could still happen if he can prove himself at Doncaster this season.
But like so many of this South African generation, the jury is still out on whether he cut it at the very top of the European game.
For breaking stories and all the great banter like us on Facebook: facebook.com/tribalfootball