OVERSEAS: Top 10 SA players who are under age U23

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For the past eight years a crop of players born between 1997 and 2000 have moved abroad before playing in the Premier Soccer League earning moves to clubs in Europe’s top leagues.

This generation of young footballers have been a revelation for South Africa’s youth national teams having qualified for every youth tournament in the past five years since making the Chile U17 FIFA World Cup five years ago.

FARPost zooms into this crop of players making strides in Europe and trying to emulate the success of legends like Benni McCarthy, Quinton Fortune, Sibusiso Zuma, etc.

1. LUTHER SINGH (23)

Having gone through the Stars of Africa Academy the 23-year-old joined Swedish second tier side GAIS where he scored over 10 goals in the 2015/16 season attracting the attention of U-20 coach Thabo Senong who roped him into the set up for the 2017 U-20 AFCON in Zambia. Singh was joint top scorer alongside Zambia’s Patson Daka with 4 goals in that tournament.

The winger was later signed by SC Braga where he featured mostly for their B team before being loaned out to GD Chaves, Moreirense and currently Pacos Ferreira for the 2020/21 season.

The attacker has scored 30 career league goals so far and looks set to add to that tally this season.

2. GIFT LINKS (21)

He went through the youth structures of Platinum Stars before joining Egyptian Premier League side Al Assiouty Sport where he made 13 league appearances. The winger then moved back to South Africa to link up with his idol Benni McCarthy at Cape Town City. At City he featured in 37 league games scoring 5 goals which attracted Danish side AGF Aarhus who snatched him for a record fee in August 2019. Links is currently playing regularly for AGF having made 20 appearances scoring a single goal so far in the Suparliga.

3. LUKE LE ROUX (20)

The former South African U-20 captain joined Swedish side Varbergs BoIS at the beginning of 2020 and immediately made an impact playing as a regular in the defensive midfield role. The 20-year-old has made 19 Allsvenskan appearances so far for Varbergs.

4. LYLE FOSTER (20)

Probably the most promising young striker abroad he joined French Ligue 1 side AS Monaco in January 2019 on a 5-year-deal from Orlando Pirates. He made his first team debut 6 months later for the former French champions. The 20-year-old was loaned out to Monaco’s sister club Cercle Brugge for the 2019/20 season before he opted to make a permanent switch to Portuguese Primeira Liga side Vitoria Guimaraes where he made his debut in the opening day of the league as Guimaraes fell to a 1-0 defeat against SAD Belenenses.

5. THABO CELE (23)

Born in Kwa-Mashu, Cele was one of the shining stars of his generation in the esteemed KZN Academy before making a switch to Portuguese side Real SC in 2016. Cele performed so well giants SL Benfica signed him for five years. The central midfielder couldn’t break in Benfica’s first team and thus opted to sign for second division side Cova Piedade where he has been playing for the past two seasons. The 23-year-old has also been to the U-20 FIFA World Cup with Amajita back in 2017 and been involved with coach David Notoane at U-23 level.

6. KEANIN AYER (20)

The player took an unconventional route into Europe after he went through the structures of Ghana’s Right To Dream Academy from the age of 12 until he turned 18. After performing well in the Annual Gothia Cup in Sweden Ayer signed for Swedish side Varbergd BoIS where he has been a revelation making over 40 appearances for them in the past two years. This season Ayer has featured 16 times in the 20 games played so far in the Allsvenskan. He can play as a central midfielder and right back.

7. SPHEPHELO SITHOLE (21)

The SAD Belenenses midfielder made front page news when he signed for Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon back in 2017. The midfielder featured in the prestigious UEFA Youth League with Sporting’s U-19 side in 2019 before making a switch to Vitoria Setubal where he spent only 6 months before later joining his current club SAD Belenenses. ‘Yaya’ made his first team debut in August and is currently playing with Belenenses’s first team.

8. LIAM JORDAN (22)

South African U-23 striker Liam Jordan was developed at Bidvest Wits before making a move to Sporting Lisbon in 2016 playing mostly with the club’s B team. The 22-year-old later made a move to Danish 1st division side HB Koge in 2017 where he has made over 60 appearances in the past three seasons.

9. TASHREEQ MATTHEWS (20)

Matthews came through the Ikamva Academy of Ajax Cape Town. The winger later moved to German giants Borussia Dortmund playing in the UEFA Youth League with their U-19 before seeking senior football. Matthews then had two brief loan spells with Jong Utrecht in Holland and Helsingborg in Sweden. In 2020 he made a permanent switch to Swedish Allsvenskan side Varbergs BoIS and has featured in 15 league games so far.

10. KHANYA LESHABELA (21)

Born in Soshunguve 21 years ago Leshabela moved to England at the age of two with his parents settling in Northampton. The midfielder then played with Northampton’s youth teams before being scouted by English Premier League side Leicester City in 2013 where he has been going through structures until today as he looks to break into the first team.

RELATED STORY: Top 10 South African teens abroad

By Prince Sobayeni

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