Let Xulu go - and grow
Is Siyanda Xulu worth more than R5-million? Yup. Did Sundowns act in the interests of the player - or those of South African football - by rejecting the R5-million offer made for him by FC Rostov? Nope.
Obviously, Sundowns have the right to demand a transfer fee that meets their valuation. And, given the dizzying wealth of owner Patrice Motsepe, it is no shock that Downs are underwhelmed by the Rostov offer, which would barely cover Elias Pelembe's pay for a year. Moreover, Downs urgently need to win things, and they don't have a ready-made replacement for Xulu.
If Xulu was 26, rejecting the offer would be sensible. But Xulu is 20 - the perfect age to leave these shores and enter the maelstrom of European football. He has all the attributes - height, pace, temperament and technique - and needs to refine his abilities as quickly as possible while he is adaptable.
And there are no guarantees that another superior offer for Xulu will come along soon. It's increasingly difficult to sell South African players abroad due to the double-whammy of fast-growing PSL salaries and the iffy reputation of our players. Unless you're a Bafana regular, England is off-limits due to work permit rules, and the other big leagues are, well, out of our league. The Belgian, Israeli and Swedish leagues are receptive to South African players, but the pay is relatively bad in all three leagues.
There are no South African players in the Russian Premier League, which is ranked 7th in the Uefa coefficient rankings of European leagues. Russia is home to stars of the calibre of Samuel Eto'o, Keisuke Honda, Seydou Doumbia, Bruno Alves, Demy de Zeeuw and Dame N'Doye, plus the cream of the Russian national side.
Some of the world's finest coaches are working there - such as Guus Hiddink at Anzhi Makhachkala, Luciano Spalletti at Zenit St Petersburg, Slaven Bilic at Lokomotiv Moscow and Unai Emery at Spartak Moscow.
And the money on offer is lavish - established foreign players bank basic annual salaries ranging from à1-million to à5-million.
As a youngster arriving from a minor league, Xulu wouldn't be in that bracket - his first contract may not be worth dramatically more than his current deal at Chloorkop. But he wanted to make the move - to give himself a shot at entering the football stratosphere. One great season for Rostov could win him a deal with one of Europe's mightiest clubs - either in Russia or elsewhere - and make him absurdly rich. There's nothing wrong with that dream.
Downs should by all means have tried to coax a better price from Rostov, and demand a juicy slice of any sell-on profit they make on Xulu. But executives Yugesh Singh and Kenneth Makhanya don't seem to have much flair for negotiation. Their abrasive dealings with agents and foreign clubs are threatening to turn Chloorkop into a comfy dead end for South Africa's top young talent.
To be sure, Russia would be tough as hell for Xulu. The league runs through the grim winter nowadays, and he would confront homesickness, loneliness and racism. But enduring those trials might prove to be a priceless rite of passage, giving him pride, discipline and self-reliance as well as wealth and fame. Ask Macbeth Sibaya or Matthew Booth.
Xulu wants to realise the meaning of his first name - he wants to grow. Downs should let him.