Influence of the 12th man

Kaizer Chiefs Chairman Kaizer Motaung watched this week the remarkable Uefa Champions League match between Barcelona and Paris St-Germain. He has some comments on the match and also talks about some lessons to be learnt for his fellow South Africans.

The past couple of days have been nothing but pure bliss for most football fanatics, especially those that follow European football. This season’s Last-16 stage of the Uefa Champions League has brought about an excitement that the former greats of the game have always dreamed of. If you happen to have witnessed the scenes in Spain where Barcelona dramatically reversed a 4-0 deficit against Paris St-Germain (PSG) you would have seen fans of the club coming together for one purpose only, and that is to make the team be successful.

It would be completely inaccurate to say that the effect of the 12th man had no effect on the outcome. The Catalan faithful did not only attend the match to support their team. They came in their numbers to rally behind the team and claim their position as one of Europe’s best-supported side.

As a local fan one would argue that the good vibe and all encompassing festivities have, as Richard Martin put it in the AF Reuters report, allowed Barcelona to sprout warm and fuzzy feelings because they felt victorious.

The fans of the Spanish outfit can now say they have won, because how they’ve been able to win a match of this magnitude and also how they’ve rallied behind their team has allowed them to showcase the rest of the world how effective you can be when you support, believe and trust your team. The naysayers have finally been silenced after Lionel Messi and company reminded the rest of the world football community of what a dominant force they still are.

Now the real test or challenge will come in the next days when the Uefa Champions League hype is over and the rest of the South African Premier Soccer League resumes. It will be interesting to see whether people who were so enthusiastic about Neymar’s heroics on social media will turn up at local matches.

Foreign leagues, such as the English Premier League or La Liga, don’t struggle for support among our fans in South Africa, but the PSL does. Will the people, who turned out in their droves at our local bars to watch Barcelona and who got behind the Spanish side, continue to be interested in the fortunes of some of the local teams in a similar manner?

In order for many ‘football’ fans to come to the local games, the perception of the PSL as a low quality league needs to change. The same people who complain about the standard of football on display in the PSL are the same people who were singing Barca’s praises when they convincingly beat PSG 6-1. It is high time that ‘patriotic’ South African football fans embrace our football that’s on display in local matches.

There are lessons to be learnt from this Champions League game between Barcelona and Paris St-Germain. First, despite the fact that Barça were 4-0 down from the first leg, the Camp Nou was sold out and the fans gave their team the support they needed. It felt like a cup final. The atmosphere the supporters created in the stadium lifted the player to gain the momentum and the stature to win.

A second lesson we can learn from this game is that in Europe this is a culture, fans come to support their club, even though the situation doesn’t look good, as few people gave Barça any hope to progress to the next round. In our country, people wouldn’t have wanted to go to the game.

Another lesson is for the players, to know that ‘a game is never over until it is over’. The Barcelona side showed focus and determination to overcome the 4-0 deficit, thanks to beating PSG 6-1. It was an enthralling game of football on display.