South Africa’s football coaching blues
South African football is at a crossroads after drawing World Cup qualifiers against lowly Ethiopia and Botswana.
The governing body, the South African Football Association, is looking for a coach who can steer its pride and joy out of the doldrums. Football coaches, as far as South Africa’s national team is concerned, come and go like commuter trains, even before their contracts are expired.
The latest in a slew of coaches to be sacked, Pitso Mosimane, was sent packing after serving the national team for just over two years. The straw that broke the camel’s back came a month ago, when Bafana Bafana, ranked 70th in the world, drew 1-1 at home against Ethiopia at home, ranked 122.
SAFA was under attack from its legion of fans and pundits.
Its bosses caved, kicking the coach out soon after the embarrassing loss. In came ‘caretaker coach’ Steve Komphela, a former South African national captain of repute. Komphela is thought of as one of the more cerebral coaches in SA – so articulate is he that one player remarked tongue-in-cheek “The only problem is we have to come with a dictionary to the training field.” Regardless, Komphela soon realised how tough this job can be.
In their follow-up World Cup qualifier against Botswana in Gaborone recently, even with the mercurial Steven Pienaar of Everton marshalling their midfield, South Africa could only manage a 1-1 draw. That result had fans cursing what one newspaper has coined the “Buffoona Buffoona” out of frustration.
Now Komphela and Gordon Igesund, who has won Premier League titles in South Africa with three different clubs, are involved in a two-horse race for the coaching job on a permanent basis. The likes of local football legend Neil Tovey, Gavin Hunt, and Ephraim Mashaba had been considered, before the list was whittled down to two contenders.
Hunt in fact, won an unprecedented three consecutive Premier League club titles with unheralded SuperSport. However, despite being a master tactician with limited resources, it is believed by many pundits that he falls short as far as man-management is concerned.
After SAFA’s obsession with acquiring foreign coaches, fans are at least being appeased in their demands for a local coach who ‘understands our players’. But even local coaches should know how tenuous the job can be in South Africa.
Besides a soccer-mad public that demands success; a SAFA structure riddled with politics, bureacracy, and administrative bungling; and a lack of support from local coaches in the local Premier Soccer League; one of the bigger issues is Bafana’s acute lack of goalscoring.
Towards the end of last year, in a match against Sierra Leone in South Africa, the Bafana went on a victory lap to celebrate a 0-0 draw, believing they had qualified for the 2012 African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea after Niger had lost to Egypt. Mosimane had his charges believe that a draw was all they needed to qualify, should Niger lose.
Mosimane did not know that Confederation of Football rules stated that if teams were level on points after qualification, the head-to-head record would count, not goal difference. South Africa exited the stage before the tournament began, while Niger slipped through via the backdoor.
The legion of fans never forgave him. They believed – and still do – he should have been aware of the rules. They certainly did not regret SAFA’s decision to sack him. Like many before him, Mosimane is believed to have received an even bigger pay cheque for having his contract ended before the expiry date.
Joel Santana of Brazil got his marching orders before the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010. SAFA eventually recalled his countryman, Carlos Alberto Parreira, for the World Cup in South Africa at the 11th hour, after they had grown weary of Santana’s bumbling. Though he had done well coaching teams like Flamengo and Fluminense in Brazil, Santana’s inability to speak a language (quite literally) that South African players could understand led to his demise.
But how could a coach who was only known in his own country, and who could not speak English, let alone understand the intricacies of local African languages, get the nod to assume such an important position in South African soccer? Only SAFA can answer that.
The Bafana Bafana has had 15 coaches since it was allowed back into the international fold in 1992. Six of them have been international. None of them, despite the fanfare on their arrival, has taken South Africa to dizzy heights. The problem since South Africa’s readmission to the international footballing stage is that fans, offcials, coaches and administrators alike are clueless about the “brand of soccer” their team should be playing.
Because coaches have come and gone so quickly, any clear direction for Bafana is still acutely lacking. The most high-profile coach was Parreira, who built SA’s style on the Brazilian approach of defending and then counter-attacking in numbers. That seemed to work to some degree in the build-up to the World Cup 2010. Their 3-0 demolition of Paraguay was a demonstration of that.
But still, Parreira didn’t seem to have the support of some officials, and to make matters worse, he probably didn’t have the quality players to make such a dramatic change in playing style that could be delivered on a consistent basis.
But so highly-regarded was Parreira that he answered a clarion call from SAFA before the 2010 World Cup to reignite the fortunes, which was not to be. Bafana were bundled out after the first round, despite a 2-0 victory in their last match over a disorganised French team.
It is fitting to recall that Parreira shocked all and sundry when he announced that he was resigning from his position during his first stint with Bafana in 2008. He said his wife was sick in Brazil and needed him to be there for her. SAFA accepted his explanation as football could never compete with health issues surrounding a loved one. However, there were those who believed that Parreira had become tired of football politics in South Africa and may have opted out.
Before Parreira, even Carlos Queroiz, who went on to achieve great things under Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, was given the boot by SA football authorities. Then before him came and went Englishman Stuart Baxter, and Frenchman Phillipe Troussier. Rumours abound that Mosimane earned up to 800,000 rand a month; so who knows what foreign coaches earned while adding nothing to SA’s football reputation.
FIFA a few months ago released a sum total of 450 million rand, called the “legacy project”, that was promised to South African football once the 2010 World Cup was over. The money is being handled by a trust headed by the man who brought the World Cup to South Africa, Danny Jordaan, and that will hopefully be channelled into the various regions under SAFA’s control, to assist with training facilities and to help inject much-needed swagger into South African football.
South Africa boasts by far the best football facilities on the continent of Africa, even before the windfall from the World Cup arrived, facilities that any African player would be desperate to have. Yet teams like, Botswana, Niger and poverty-stricken Ethiopia are giving South Africa a run for their money.
Football players from neighbouring countries like Zimbabawe, Zambia and Malawi who play in the local leagues have made the charge that South African footballers are too spoilt and are not prepared to work hard. Those judgments do ring true in some way. Despite the cash injection into SA football, authorities, fans, players and administrators alike could soon realise that no amount of money in the world will turn things around if there is no collabarative effort by all football stakeholders, pursuing a common interest in the future of football in South Africa.
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