Since the South African Football Association (SAFA) announced over a month ago that they will not be renewing the contact of national senior team coach Gordon Igesund, a few names have been bandied about to see who is best to “solve” the crisis that is Bafana Bafana. Before we get to those heavily tipped for the job, let’s look at what the real problem is with the national team and whether all we need is a coach and all our problems will be over. Since the big victory of 1996, with the Bafana Bafana that everyone loved and identified with, there has been an obvious downward spiral of the team that was once ranked number one in Africa.
Now although we did not realise it at the time, those players were really hungry, both figuratively and literally. They had nothing, and wanted to make a name for themselves. The likes of Lucas Radebe, Helman Mkhalele, Doctor Khumalo, Shoes Moshoeu, Eric Tinkler, Phil Masinga, David Nyathi, and the late Sizwe Motaung were the first Bafana we knew, and with the country recently readmitted into the international sporting arena, they knew the ’96 AFCON was their ticket to Europe, therefore played with more determination, and had nothing to lose.
Also we as a nation were going through a transition phase, with the new black president, and the Springboks’ 95 World Cup triumph creating the euphoria. 1998 was also a big year for us. Possibly the biggest gem was uncovered when Benni McCarthy set Burkina Faso alight.
But unfortunately, as the free fall had begun, we could not defend our African title. We did however make our World Cup debut in France later that year, one we would rather forget. I can tell you of all the other disapointments that followed, but in an effort to try and not bore you, let’s fast forward to 2014, and after going through many coaches of high pedigree like Carlos Queiroz, Shakes Mashaba, Stuart Baxter, Ted Dumitru, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Pitso Mosimane, and Gordon Igesund, who all have notable credentials in their respective careers, the SAFA top brass amazingly still thinks we have a problem with the coaching.
When Igesund took over the reins in July 2012, the team was hanging by a thread in the World Cup qualifiers, and despite his four league titles, he was unable to save the sinking ship. The team did however play better under the former Orlando Pirates coach than they did in a long time, and even when we hosted the African showpiece in 2013, they looked to play for the flag rather than themselves. That’s until we got knocked out in the second round, and Gordon fell out of favour with certain sections of the media and his bosses at SAFA.
For me, since there is so much money pumped into our local league, it has been more about players who don’t understand what it is to play for their country than anything. They are not hungry enough, and they don’t care about moving abroad with the comfortable lives they lead here at home. They don’t seem to care who’s watching them.
Whether it’s scouts from overseas, or just the passionate ordinary South Africans. This is what the minister meant in January after the team’s exit from CHAN when he said, “…they don’t respect anybody. Not even their mothers and girlfriends…”, and this was further highlighted when the vast majority of the players refused to travel to Australasia in May this year for friendlies against Australia and New Zealand, citing fatigue after a “long season”. By that time the writing was on the wall for GI, and the big question has been who will replace him.
Very early on Carlos Queiroz was touted as the man for the hot seat after taking Iran to the World Cup in Brazil. And as I’ve said before, the Mozambican-born man has been been at the helm before, and did leave a good mark after making sure Bafana qualified for the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, but sadly could’t take the team there after not seeing eye to eye with the Association. Queiroz’s CV also boasts big teams like Real Madrid, Manchester United, and the Portuguese national team, and all this can work in his favour.
Another hot favourite is Nigerian Stephen Keshi. ‘The Big Boss’ just led his native country to the second round of the World Cup finals in Brazil, and leaves them as the defending champions of Africa, winning the tournament with the odds heavily stacked against him. This, combined with Keshi’s confidence in young players, plus the tactical know-how, might stand him in good stead for the gig.
Those are the two front runners, but other names that have been thrown into the hat are Shakes Mashaba, and the dutch duo of Frank Rijkaard and Dick Advocaat. However, the problem for whoever will be occupying Igesund’s post is that there is another big tournament coming up in six month’s time, the AFCON 2015 in Morocco, and the new man might carry the unrealistic hopes of the nation to qualify and take the team to North Africa. With the qualifiers starting in September, it might be a bit unfair for the coach to get everything right in just a month, and face a Nigerian team that has always had an upper hand against us.
What we should all realise is that the time for a quick fix is over, and we need to give the coach enough time to work with the lads and instill his own philosophy, which will take time. The perfect example is Germany and how they kept Joachim Loew as their coach since 2006 without winning anything, but it finally payed off in 2014. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we will win the World Cup in the near future, but if we keep the coach and allow him to get his ducks in a row and get his own ‘fresh produce’ of players, surely we will reap the rewards.
Whether it is Keshi, Queiroz, or even Mashaba, he will need our support in order to once again get our team to a respectable position, firstly in African football, before we can start thinking we’re world beaters. Whoever it is though, we wish him all of the best.