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STRIKING BACK

Following lengthy mental health-induced hiatus from Bafana Bafana, Lyle Foster will be key 

Following lengthy mental health-induced hiatus from Bafana Bafana, Lyle Foster will be key 
Lyle Foster of Bafana Bafana (centre) during a 2023 International Friendly match between South Africa and Eswatini at FNB Stadium, Johannesburg. 13 October 2023. (Photo:Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix)

Lyle Foster last played for Bafana Bafana in October 2023. The Burnley striker has returned to the national team for their crucial World Cup qualifiers against Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

As Bafana Bafana prepare for their two crunch World Cup qualifying ties against Nigeria and Zimbabwe over the next few days, a familiar face will be one of the players that Hugo Broos depends on to earn precious points for South Africa.

Burnley striker Lyle Foster last played for Bafana Bafana in an international friendly back in October 2023, when South Africa held reigning African champions Ivory Coast to a one-all draw in Abidjan.

Then between 21 October and 16 December last year — the 23-year-old was sidelined from soccer as he battled with mental health issues which saw him miss matches for his English club.

When he returned to action for his team, there was hope that he would also be part of the Bafana Bafana contingent that travelled to Ivory Coast for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) — which took place between January and February 2024.

However, despite his return to the field for his club, Foster wrote to the South African Football Association (Safa) asking to not be considered for Afcon — to the frustration of Bafana Bafana’s Belgian coach Broos.

Lyle Foster

Lyle Foster in action for Burnley in the English Premier, Manchester, Britain. 27 April 2024. (Photo: EPA/Adam Vaughan)

Broos was naturally disappointed with losing his most lethal goal threat and a player who was playing at the highest level of English soccer ahead of the tournament. Especially as Foster had returned to playing for Burnley following his two-month layoff.

Despite his despondency at the whole situation, Broos accepted it and said he could not challenge the medical feedback from Burnley. The club had stated that while Foster had returned to action for them, travelling to a different country would be a setback for his progress and recovery.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tough debate — Lyle Foster mental health matter more complicated than pundits and naysayers proclaim

Some South Africans labelled Foster as being unpatriotic and choosing his club over the national team in the whole situation.

Former Bafana Bafana skipper and defender Aaron Mokoena, who also donned the colours of Blackburn Rovers during his playing days, spoke of how he was not sure whether the decision to not be available for Afcon was that of Foster, or whether he had been pressured by Burnley, who were battling relegation.

“It pains me that we don’t know whether this was Lyle Foster’s decision, or the club’s. If the [responsibility fell on Lyle Foster to decide] it’s easy. Come and play for the country. If you really want to. The question is does he want to or not?” Mokeona told SABC’s Thabiso Mosia at the time.

Hugo Broos

Hugo Broos, coach of South Africa during the 2024 FIFA Series Team Announcement at SABC Studios, Johannesburg. 11 March 2024. (Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix)

All is well

Broos, when announcing his final team for the two World Cup qualifying fixtures, told journalists that despite still having to navigate some hurdles — Foster was ready to help his country as it aims to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2010.

“His health problem is sorted out now. I was very angry at certain moments, because we got the news that Lyle was not ready earlier this year,” Broos stated.

“Lyle had mental problems, and suddenly he started playing league matches for Burnley while he was receiving treatment. He did not go with us to Afcon because he was not ready. That was what his manager Vincent Kompany told me,” the Belgian continued.

“After that, in March I spoke to Burnley and they told me: ‘No, it is better that you don’t call him at the moment, because he is still having mental problems.’ But he still played for Burnley.

“It was not easy to accept that… Now everything is okay. I called him and we had a good chat and there are no problems anymore.”

It will probably serve Foster well that his first match for Bafana Bafana is being played away from his home country.

Though his coach and teammates have warmly welcomed him back, when Burnley were relegated from the English Premier League a few weeks ago some social media users celebrated the news. They insisted that it was Foster’s punishment for being “unpatriotic”.

Bafana Bafana playing away from home in his first game back may help the striker adjust and deliver the quality he has regularly shown in national team colours under Broos. DM

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