Few goalkeepers are knowledgeable and alert as Williams, says Shuaib Walters
As Ronwen Williams left his line to rush into no man’s land, where he unceremoniously misjudged Moses Simon’s corner-kick, there and then Bafana Bafana’s journey in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) came to an end.
William Troost-Ekong capitalised on Williams’ miss-punch with the easiest of tap-ins in the 89th minute - a goal that proved to be enough to send the Super Eagles to the semi-finals of the continental showpiece.
It was a defining moment for Bafana but not, necessarily, for Williams.
That Bafana were in the quarter-finals of the tournament was also due to the latters’ impressive exploits between the sticks in the group stage against Ivory Coast, Morocco and Namibia and knockout stage against Egypt.
In the bigger scheme of things, Williams was somewhat of an unlikely hero for the South Africans as he proved his detractors wrong, considering coach Stuart Baxter’s starting line-up in the opening game against Cote D’ivoire was met with a host of critics as the 28-year-old was starting ahead of Darren Keet.
Those informed will know that many at the time were still hungover from Williams’ blunders during the 5-0 loss to Brazil in an international friendly five years ago.
But that he starred in Egypt, by pulling the South Africans to the last-eight of the tournament, somewhat proved his mettle as a goalkeeper with a big match temperament - something that is often rare in modern goalkeepers.
The Port Elizabeth-born Williams is clearly no ordinary goalkeeper, having joined SuperSport United youth academy at the age of 12.
At SuperSport - where’s he’s currently the captain - he took the leadership baton at the age of 17, captaining the youth side in the Engen Cup success before gradually being introduced into the senior structures, where he learnt from veterans of the game such as Calvin Marlin, Andre Arendse and Rowen Fernandez.
According to Shuaib Walters, a retired goalkeeper who played at the highest for almost 15 years, few goalkeepers in the current crop come as equipped, knowledgeable and alert as Williams.
“Ronwen is a perfect example of the development process that a goalkeeper needs,” said Walters, who recently opened his goalkeeping academy to mould youngsters as early as the age of 12.
“SuperSport took him in and they gave him proper fundamentals that goalkeepers need in order to mature. They gave him the platform to make errors, become stronger and mature as goalkeeper - and not a lot of clubs do that.”
And that many top-flight or second tier division back experienced goalkeepers over youth is alarming for the state of South African football, according to Walters.
“We are really thin in the goalkeeping department. We don’t see young goalkeepers that are coming through and doing well at their clubs,” he explained. “We are not exporting any goalkeepers to the big leagues either. Towards the end of my career, I still managed to get a national team call-up at the age of 36. But you then ask yourself where are the Under-23 goalkeepers who are playing regularly at their clubs? It is a concerning factor for domestic football and national team selectors.”
Early in March, veteran goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was called up for the postponed back-to-back Afcon qualifiers between Bafana and Sao Tome and Principe, even though he played second-fiddle to Daniel Akpeyi at Kaizer Chiefs before the domestic season came to a halt.
According to Walters, who was almost referring to how Khune played during the 2016 Olympic Games despite the fact that Jody February helped the Under-23s to get there, it’s also been frustrating to see how young goalkeepers are even overlooked for their own tournaments.