Bartlett leading South African search
Former South African striker Shaun Bartlett is leading the development of the next generation of Bafana Bafana stars and will launch three training camps in Gauteng over the next six months aimed at bringing the best talent to light.
Bartlett has joined forces with Nike and five other former Bafana players in Roger de Sa, Eric Tinkler, Fani Madida, Linda Buthelezi and Tebogo Moloi, to work on developing young talent in South Africa, at a cost of around 14 million rand.
The project is a response to the fact that South Africa have slipped down the rankings after being number one in Africa in 1996 following their African Nations Cup success.
Bartlett told South Africa's Independent: ''We have gone backwards since 1996. That is a fact borne out by our current world ranking of 85th when in 1996 Bafana were in the top 20 in the world. It is a sad state of affairs. If the powers that be (the South African Football Association) are not prepared to do something, then we as former Bafana players are going to do something with the help of Nike who have come to the party."
The scheme is not aimed at 2010, but for four years' time and Bartlett is hopeful that it will have an impact further into the future.
''It is vital we start at the bottom and lay a solid foundation. Our goal is to produce players who will represent Bafana at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil,'' he said. "This is not a one-off project. We start with 350 players this weekend at Milpark. After the other two camps in Gauteng in April and during the World Cup in June, we will select 20 boys to go and train in Brazil where they will play some matches at one of Brazil's World Cup stadiums sometime in 2011."
Bartlett said he was disappointed at the decision to stop using the School of Excellence at Esselen Park, near Kempton Park where a number of players - including Steven Pienaar - were discovered.
"Safa decided not to continue with the School of Excellence and put their money elsewhere,'' he said."To me that was a mistake and disappointing. If we do not develop our youth then we will not produce any top players. The situation has reached a stage where something has to be done and if Safa do not want to do it, then we as former players are going to help.
"This venture with Nike is not a one off. There are millions of dollars (US) involved in this long-term programme and will be run on similar lines as their projects in South Korea, the United States and in Europe."
The striker, who scored 29 goals in 74 appearances for Bafana, added that the home support would play a major part in helping South Africa to make it to the Second Round.
"When we won the Nations Cup in 1996 we were carried by massive home support and I hope the country rallies behind Bafana and give them the same support,'' he said. "I am quietly optimistic we can make history by reaching the second round for the first time in our history.
''My worry is that by June the players could be drained as they will have been in camp for something like three months, which I feel might be too long to be in a training camp. But hopefully, with the home support Bafana, will rise to the occasion."