Shakes Mashaba One Year On

I tried to resist the temptation to talk about Shakes Mashaba’s tenure so far as Bafana Bafana coach.  But you know me, it just couldn’t slip through the cracks.  I know that a lot of us in South Africa are very despondent right now, and rightfully so.  

What we saw over the weekend in Nouakchott is something we should never wake up to again.  But I’m afraid, I can’t shake off the feeling that we will most likely have to stomach that sort of embarrassment again if something does not change soon.  A lot of us will look back at the first nine games of Mr Mashaba’s reign with fondness because this was a period where the coach could do no wrong in the eyes of the nation. 

We all praised him for a new sense of belief he instilled in the guys, and equally hailed the decision by the Association to give him the job as a stroke of genius.  Fast forward exactly a year on, 23 games, nine wins, 11 draws, and three loses later, things are not so rosy anymore for the 65-year-old.  His AFCON 2017 qualifying campaign is hanging by a thread, arguably the entire nation is against him, he’s on the brink of losing the players’ faith, and perhaps the worst of them all, he’s picking fights with the media. 

I have always said that when a coach starts to fight with the media, he is really treading on thin ice.  The media is in so many instances the difference between you keeping your job, and being ‘let go’ by your bosses.  Now does it make all of us hypocrites for having praised Mashaba then and criticising him now?  Certainly not. 

We gave credit when and where it was due, but cannot turn a blind eye when things are not going right purely for sentimental reasons.  Perhaps the nation, and indeed the coach were blinded by the mirage of the early and rapid success of his era and the excitement that our team was finally qualifying for things, that we actually forgot that his primary mandate was qualifying for the 2017 showpiece, not necessarily the 2015 one.  Now just two games into the qualifying campaign that he was supposed to get right, Mashaba is surrounded by over 50 million South Africans, but has never felt lonelier. 

Now since many people are calling for his axing “before it’s too late”, and although this might be very premature, the troublemaker in me just couldn’t shake the itch to look at some of the men that could be our options and ask the question, if not Shakes then who?

Steve Komphela

Beaten to the post by Gordon Igesund in 2012, Komphela’s name always seems to come up whenever there’s crises in the national team.  Although he was the direct runner-up for the job when Igesund got the nod, he was further down the pecking order when Mashaba was hired.  The problem with Steve right now is that he is fresh in his new role as Kaizer Chiefs head coach, a job that comes second only to Bafana in pressure. 

He has had a very good start at Naturena, and I doubt would want to leave that anytime soon.  He is yet to lose a match in all competitions, meaning he’s also in the final of the MTN8 and putting him in line for his first ever major trophy as a coach.  I have always believed that Komphela will one day take over the reins at Bafana Bafana, but also always said he needs to win things first to back up his CV and that charm of his that just rolls off the tongue. 

So I think we should rather wait for him for run his race at Chiefs.  For now, I think he’s ruled out.

Stuart Baxter

There is no doubt that football fans in the country trust Baxter now more than ever.  The Briton had a very successful three seasons with Amakhosi, that he was probably the first coach who left the club willingly in over a decade.  He also happens to be unemployed after he was sacked at his new Turkish club Genclerbirligi after just two games in charge. 

He would probably jump at a chance to take charge of Bafana especially since his name was also in the hat for the Technical Director gig, which has since gone to Neil Tovey.  Now the one thing that could count against him is that he has had his chance before. 

This would be his second bite at the Bafana cherry, a post he quit after failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.  Although South Africans will still remember this, I suspect they might just welcome Baxter’s return to the hot seat to right the wrongs of ten years ago.

Gavin Hunt

Of all the top South African coaches, Hunt is probably the only one who has not had a go at the Bafana top job.  Regarded by many as one of the best tacticians in the modern game, his CV more than qualifies him for the post.  Having earlier had stints at Black Leopards and Moroka Swallows, his best days were when he guided SuperSport United to three consecutive league titles from 2007 to 2010. 

Hunt also prides himself of being the coach who gave a certain young Benni McCarthy his debut in his days at Seven Stars in the mid-90s.  His spell at Bidvest Wits has yet to bear fruit though, and I for one have been one of those on his case about it.  I don’t think the durability of his bosses’ patience can stretch beyond this season, so he might just become available after this campaign.  There is no doubt however that Gavin is a top coach who knows how to win games and collect important points. 

My only concern or reservation about him is that his teams never seem to do well in African competitions, and if he’s going to be Bafana coach that’s exactly the area we would need him to be strong.  Still, I’d like to see what he can come up with should he even be considered.

Steven Keshi

Another jobless one is Keshi.  The Nigerian’s name also made the rounds at the SAFA corridors last year, but his love-hate relationship with the NFF seemed to be at the centre of all things.  ‘The Big Boss’ did well to lift the Nations’ Cup trophy with the Super Eagles in 2013, but has since fallen out of favour in his native Nigeria. 

Their World Cup showing in Brazil last year was less than inspiring, and that was followed by the disastrous AFCON 2015 campaign, where they could not even earn the right to defend their crown in Equatorial Guinea.  He has since been replaced by former teammate Sunday Oliseh at the helm.  I don’t see this one happening at all.  But with SAFA you can never tell.

Carlos Queiroz

And we come to another man who has come, has seen, but never conquered.  The Mozambican-born Portuguese coach did the rounds at Bafana Bafana before, and did qualify the team for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, but like Moses, never got to the promised land after a fallout with SAFA.  This current regime though seems to be huge fans of Queiroz, who has seen Iran to lofty heights recently and guided them to the top of the Asian rankings. 

His CV is quite heavy having coached Real Madrid, was assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and coached Portugal at the 2010 World Cup.  However, unlike Baxter who South Africans can identify with already and approve of his style of football, I’m not too sure the country will accept another European coach who will want to get rid of our football identity.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the top brass were to turn to him though and attempt to lure him back to Africa.

 

So before we all take up arms and demand Mashaba’s exit.  I suggest that we all take a deep breath and think about who is the best suited person to take over the hot seat.  Maybe the question we should rather ask ourselves is whether we even have such a person, or we should just stick with Bra Shakes?  If you ask me, we cannot afford to bring in someone new right now. 

Not when we’ve invested so much already and with the World Cup qualifier against Angola coming up in November.  Let’s forget about plan B and just focus on fixing current mistakes.  Most of all, let’s support Bafana Bafana.