The Stars of Africa academy has been one of the best academies in South Africa for years having produced top players who have gone on to make a name for themselves locally and abroad: Tokelo Rantie, May Mahlangu, Tefu Mashamaite and many others have all come through their ranks over the years.
Luther Singh is one of the most talented young players from the current generation of youngsters who are rising and FARPost‘s Prince Sobayeni sat down with the man behind the Stars of Africa Academy coach Farouk Khan who shares the story of the youngster.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Good morning coach I hope you are good thanks for taking time out to talk to us.
FAROUK KHAN: Good morning Prince, it’s a pleasure to talk to you, thanks for having me.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: All good coach, how are you holding up during these tough times of the pandemic?
FAROUK KHAN: It’s been tough. We’ve been closed for almost four months now, we do work online through virtual coaching which helps a bit. We are limited to do mostly physical tactical exercises, we had a couple of youngsters that showed promise so we wanted to take them abroad, but we will have to extend that project by six months now because we have to work on them. There is a number of players who have showed promise, there is a youngster who is captain of the national U-17 a very talented boy and a few others who are showing tremendous promise but we can’t move them until they are mentality ready.
That’s sometimes the mistake we make when we send boys to clubs abroad they aren’t mentality prepared I’ve even seen with some of the MDC (MultiChoice Diski Challenge) a lot of these boys show glimpses of brilliance, but aren’t mentally prepared. I remember at Kaizer Chiefs when I sent players to the first team with coach Muhsin Ertugral, I always made sure they were mentally prepared as well because most of the time the youngsters we send out aren’t mentally prepared and at the highest level 80% of the time it’s about mental strength. When you get there senior players are going to be threatened that you will take their place so you have to be ready to deal with those challenges as a young player.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Definitely coach those are key factors I was actually watching Mason Greenwood of Manchester United who is doing well and is consistent, you can see he is ready for it.
FAROUK KHAN: When you send out a youngster to the first team they have to be ready so we can’t blame first team coaches when we send out players that aren’t ready for that level – we can’t blame coaches you know. When we sent out Jabu Pule, Isaac Mabotsa and Nhlanhla Kubheka those boys played I remember we even had operation ‘Vat Alles’ when Chiefs won everything except the league with them playing regularly. South Africa is blessed with talent but I thinking we technicians need to put our egos aside and do the hard work at grassroot level we can’t produce one player and think we are superstars we must produce twice as much.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Anyway coach let’s get to it let’s talk about Luther Singh please do share how he ended up under your guidance.
FAROUK KHAN: It’s a wonderful story that deserves to be written in the walls of Hollywood and I’ll tell you why I say so. You know back then we had no facilities most facilities were built during apartheid so we had to improvise so we ended up stealing stuff jumping fences and use the facilities (jokingly). We would go to UJ jump in train, go to another place jump and train you know it was tough times Prince. This is quite common because most of these facilities are in elite areas and aren’t even being used so we had to make ends meet. One day we went to be this other facility called Cecil Payne for training with my senior players the likes of May Mahlangu, Tefu Mashamaite and I saw this talent playing amongst other kids so I enquired about him and where he’s from.
So one day I went to his father to ask him if I can have Luther over to join the academy. His father told me: ‘There’ve been a lot of clubs that have come wanting this boy but I refused to let him go there, but because I’ve seen the work you have done at Chiefs with youngsters so I will allow you to have him’. Luther came over at the academy at the age of 11.
The challenge we had was at the time we didn’t have an U12 team at the academy so we didn’t know where to play him because he couldn’t play with the big boys at the then Vodacom league. We had a great team with great youngsters the likes of May Mahlangu, Tefu Mashamaite, Tokelo Rantie, Sibusiso Khumalo and those boys were buzzing beating teams – our team was called Alex United but we had to sell the franchise because of the challenge of corruption within the league system.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Wow those players have all become house hold names coach.
FAROUK KHAN: Yes I remember Mashamaite was rejected by Wits so we took him in, worked on him and eventually sold him back to the same Wits who later sold him for a fortune to Chiefs. Basically, Luther couldn’t play with those boys so he would only play in friendlies with us while playing school football. Eventually he got selected for the South African U12 national team. So he would train with us in the morning and afternoon, imagine a 12-year-old waking up at 4am to go to training it’s amazing the boy made a lot of sacrifices to be where he is.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Yes coach he always says he has made a lot of sacrifices to be where he is.
FAROUK KHAN: Yes he worked very hard, so anyway eventually we sold our old club and bought a team based in Noordgesig which we renamed to Stars of Africa.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Oh yes and that is where Luther is originally from right?
FAROUK KHAN: Yes that’s where he is from. In fact his father was involved with that team as well. One day we were playing there in front of a full house in his own neighborhood so now Luther was 15 I decided to give him chance I started him, he was 15 playing against old players aged 21-23. In the first half he didn’t play so well you could see he was nervous so at half time I told him, ‘son if you don’t want to play come sit with me on the bench, but if you want to play you must take this opportunity and play your game. You have to go out there be brave you have to go out there and make your family proud’.
Luther started playing doing great things along the line killing the people. Everyone was on their feet applauding him amazed by this 15-year-old making the community proud. After the game his father came to me crying tears of joy saying, ‘Coach, you have taken my son I can’t believe what you have done to him, it’s amazing’.
From then on Luther never looked back he played every game in the league, unless he was injured. When he was 17 I sent him to Sweden with Pule Maraisane, another talented youngster to join a club called Gais and Luther went to Sweden and tore the league apart scoring goals almost in every second game. I saw that this boy is destined for big things I remember before sending him out I had offered him to some of the big clubs (in SA) who rejected him initially, but later came to me wanting him to now play for them but I refused – I even told his father that this boy is destined for bigger leagues.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: I remember that period he did so well such that we thought he would make the Olympics squad to Rio in 2016.
FAROUK KHAN: Yes he did very well and later was signed by a big club in Portugal SC Braga which is where he is now (but on loan at Moreirense). A club like Braga is fighting for Champions League football and most of the clubs prioritise their own youngsters so it’s not easy for a foreigner to get there and do well instantly, but I’ve always told the boys to never come back.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Yes Luther then was with the SA U20 team and eventually called up to Bafana.
FAROUK KHAN: Yes it’s quite unfortunate that his Bafana career came to an end after he missed the penalty and the coach at the time said to the media he will learn, but in the dressing room he lambasted the player. That’s why I agree with Pitso Mosimane and Steve Komphela that some of the foreign coaches destroy more than build our players, only a few coaches like Ted Dumitru and Muhsin Ertugral knew how to get the best out of our players, but there are coaches who come into the country with only their careers at heart not caring about the players.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: I remember at the time of the penalty incident (quarter-final clash against Madagascar in the 2018 COSAFA Cup in Polokwane), Luther had played very well for Braga B in the second division playing senior football that season so he should’ve long been in the Bafana team.
FAROUK KHAN: The Porthuguse league produces the best players for the best leagues in the world so you can’t be playing there and not selected for Bafana Bafana. In fact we can’t compare our league to that league.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: A perfect example of that is Bruno Fernandes who went from that league and is tearing the English Premier League apart. What would you say is the best way forward with development?
FAROUK KHAN: I went to present to SAFA proposing that we recruit the best U12s in the country, base them at Fun Valley, take them through school and eight years down the line we take them out to the best leagues in the world. Everyone was excited about it saying it’s a brilliant idea but now two years down the line and there is no progress. We must also engage government to create a strong school sport programme which government needs to fund.
PRINCE SOBAYENI: Coach thanks for talking to us this was beautiful. We applaud the work you are doing.
FAROUK KHAN: It was great talking to you Prince actually one of these days you must come to the academy so I can show you how we do things.
By Prince Sobayeni