/ 2 October 2009

Safa boss aims to clean up

Conducting a one-on-one interview with newly elected South African Football Association (Safa) president Kirsten Nematandani is not easy. During an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, when one of his three cellphones rang he would answer and make a point of not cutting the conversation short. He spends a lot of the time on his cellphones.

‘People are lining up to speak to me. Listening is important, which is what I am going to do in my new position. I am humbled by the confidence people had in me, believing that I can make a difference in South African football,” said Nematandani.

He was elected unopposed as Safa’s president last weekend, following the withdrawal from the race of 2010 Local Organising Committee (LOC) chairperson Irvin Khoza and chief executive Danny Jordaan. It has been reported that Khoza will approach the courts to challenge the election process.

He has been at work for hardly a week, but Nematandani is already chasing his dream of seeing Safa and Bafana Bafana ranked number one on the continent. He hasn’t yet settled in Johannesburg — nor did he bring enough clothes to last him more than a week.

‘I thought I would go back to Limpopo on Sunday, but things changed when I became the president. I have to attend to some urgent issues, which is why I have had to buy some clothes.

‘Believe it: Safa and Bafana Bafana will be ranked the best in Africa. This is realistic. We were the best in 1996 and nothing will stop us from achieving the same [feat] again. We are a wealthy country, with the best football brains and the facilities, and I don’t see a reason why we should not be number one. It’s where we belong,” he said.

But to achieve this, Nematandani believes that Safa’s image has to undergo a major facelift. ‘It is important for us to rebuild the image of the association so that we can attract big sponsors. When this is done, the nation will also start believing in the association and the team, which is what we need. We will work hard to achieve this.

‘We have to utilise our 52 Safa regions and make sure that we empower people on the ground so they can come through the ranks. You need people who will listen. Our campaign strategy was that we tell the people the truth and address the needs of the people, and this is one of [the needs]. We couldn’t stand watching the product [Safa] disappear.”

After he was elected president, Nematandani immediately promised to meet Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana and his technical team to try to find solutions to the problems facing the national team. And he has not wasted any time — he has already held a meeting with them to ‘iron out some issues”.

The new Safa boss said he wanted to assure Santana that his job is safe but that he should interact more with local coaches. ‘[This] is important and will help the national team achieve better results. We had a fruitful meeting today and some of the issues that the technical team raised were important, and an eye-opener as well.

‘According to the technical team, some of the factors contributing to Bafana’s poor performance are teams not wanting to release their players, faked injuries and poor levels of fitness when the players get into the national team.

‘During the recent Confederations Cup Bafana Bafana played well because the players were in camp for quite some time. Therefore the level of fitness was high, but when they go back to their teams it decreases. When players are called up for national duty, they come two or three days before the match and this is not enough to get their fitness levels high. Maybe it is caused by the method of training, which is why it is important to interact with the coaches so that we produce a better team,” he said.

One of his priorities is to send Bafana Bafana players back to school and ‘have at least 10 university graduates in the team”. Nematandani has also promised to bring back former players and provide them with education and other skills.

‘We cannot leave players in the cold. Football players should be educated so that they have something to fall back on when they retire. These are just some of the things that one needs to do. You will see the changes as time goes by. But I first need to meet key people and talk to them,” said Nematandani.

In the coming weeks Nematandani is set to meet with President Jacob Zuma, Fifa president Sepp Blatter, Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou and Sports and Recreation Minister Makhenkesi Stofile.

‘I would like to assure them that all is well within Safa. I want [them] to be reassured that the only changes they will see are those that have a positive impact on the game of football,” he said.