Shilene Booysen on life in South Sudan, Hollywoodbets Super League, Banyana Banyana and Sundowns Ladies

Former Banyana Banyana performance analyst Shilene Booysen is still enjoying life in South Sudan where she works as the head coach of the Senior Women’s National Team.

The Cape Town-born former goalkeeper has been in the East African country for 20 months and has faced some challenges – but she says the positives far outweigh the negatives, and given a chance she would do it all over again.

She is now on her last months of her two-year contract and contemplating her next move – whether to stay or try another challenge elsewhere.

The former Westridge FC, Santos FC and Spurs player in Cape Town holds a Football Level One Coaching Course qualification, as well as CAF B and CAF A licences.

Booysen has also worked in the USA with Houston Dash alongside former Banyana Banyana head coach Vera Pauw, who recently qualified the Republic of Ireland for their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup.

CentreCircle caught up with her in South Sudan and here is what she had to say.

It’s been two years since you moved to SS, how have been things going?

Yes, it’s now 20 months. It has been challenging but also good in many ways.  I have started to miss home but feel my job here is not yet done.

In your view, have you achieved what you set out to do when you joined?

The idea was always to make a difference in the lives of the girls and women I work with and I definitely have achieved that. On the football field we had two mandates, to build a solid foundation for the national team and then make sure we get a FIFA ranking and both those have been achieved. Now we are continuing to build the national team while making sure the humanitarian needs of the players are taken care of.

What have been some of the challenges?

Probably one of the biggest has been the infrastructure. Since we only have one field to train on (5 national teams), the men normally get preference. Also toilet and changing room facilities for the girls on the training field have been an issue as there are none. We have now been able to negotiate with the Dutch Embassy to get a few containers that we have converted and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) – a human rights group – will be assisting in getting the facilities connected. This has been one of the biggest achievements for us as a team.

Non-regular football leagues for the girls is also a challenge as it creates a huge gap between club football and International football. While as a national team we should be training to win, we are busy training the fundamentals of football and also just learning to train at this level. It will be a while before we set ourselves up for the next level as one of the other difficulties is the fact that we do not have investments that is for women football development. Our funding currently comes from FIFA and the South Sudan FA and we all know that is not enough to create a sustainable program.

When is your contract up for renewal, and what are you plans? Are you staying?

I have a two year contract with the SSFA and we have not spoken about future plans yet. My contract expires end of February and of course we both have our ideas of how we want this to go but until now, we have not spoken about it yet.

Sundowns Ladies are in Morocco for the defence of their CAF Women’s Champions League title, what are their chances?

Everybody has a chance but I think all the teams that have come this year (especially the ones who have been there before), will know what to expect. It is going to be tough and I have followed the progress of all the teams there and they are all eager to put their name on the trophy. Sundowns Ladies will have to pull out all the stops and that might not even be enough. I want to wish them the very best though.

Having watched the Hollywoodbets Super League from a distance, what have you observed – in terms of organisation, play, standard, improvement?

There is still a bit of a gap between the top teams and the bottom teams. Sundowns Ladies have of course again been dominating because other teams have not been consistent in the league and I hope that changes soon. The other teams have to strengthen their squads, but then again it is not a professional league and many of the other teams have players that are either studying, working or at school. If we want to make the league stronger, we need to make it a professional league to attract better quality players. Some of the teams still only train 2-3 times a week and that does no does not help their team perform or the national team players who are currently in those teams.

And do you think if South Africa had a fully professional league, we would try and close the gap when it comes to the international stage?

Absolutely.  We need to raise the level and the only way to do that is have fully professional quality players playing each other week in and week out. The standard of what the girls face at the moment is not the same as the standard they come up against in International football. They do not face challenges on the field where they have to make decisions and try to find solutions which means we struggle when we get to a higher level. They can only draw from their experience and if that experience comes from a lower standard then we will always struggle.

We recently saw the draw for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 – your thoughts on Banyana Banyana?

Tough group!

But tell me which group is not going to be tough for any team? The good thing is Banyana Banyana has only 1 top 10 team in their group. Both the other teams are really unknown in terms of we have never played them before, but that means we are also an unknown to them.  We will need to start our preparation now, making sure we have a group of players that we want to work with and strengthen and prepare for the WC.  It is going to be tough but not impossible to get out of the group. I would like to think that Banyana Banyana will prepare well and leave nothing to chance.

Banyana Banyana’s Refiloe Jane in a tussle for the ball against a Brazilian player

South Africa played Brazil and Australia as part of preparations for the upcoming World Cup, and the results were not too pleasing. What needs to be done to get the team ready?

I think Coach Des knows what needs to be done, now it is about doing it. Making sure we have the right players that we think will make the squad and make sure they are on a program that sees them training and playing against the best wherever they are (even if it is against boys/men). Making sure they have programs that expose them to a higher standard. Each individual will need different training and that needs to be evaluated and then provided to them. If they need help in the gym, on the field or mentally, it must be provided. Preparing for the WC is not like preparing to qualify for the WC. The standards are high and everybody will need to do their part to excel.

Based on the above response, what are our chances of making the second round?

If we do the right things in the right order, we have a chance. Many teams that qualified for the WC were underdogs but yet they fought their way to the final competition. We have to believe we have a chance and then prepare for it. It is not going to be easy, but easy never won you a WC. Going through the motions will not be good enough for Banyana Banyana, it is going to take everything and more as they are up against top teams who have worked very hard to be in the position that they are. As coaches we need to push ourselves in order to push our players, some of these players might not even know that they have 3 more gears that they can go up to. They have to be shown and guided and then pushed to reach that level. That is how Banyana Banyana will get to the next level.

Vera Pauw – Head coach of the Republic of Ireland Women’s National team

Having worked with Vera Pauw at Banyana and at Houston Dash, and seeing her going to the FWWC with Ireland on their debut – how did that make you feel?

I actually spoke to her on the day of her match and stayed up to watch the game.  I am so happy for her as she has prepared many teams before but never got the opportunity to lead a team to the World Cup. I am happy that she got to do it this time around and although it wasn’t easy, I am sure it was well worth it for both her and the team. I wish them the very best at the WC.

By Matlhomola Morake

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