/ 16 October 2009

Oh, the shame

It will take a miracle for Safa president Kirsten Nematandani to realise his dream of seeing Bafana Bafana ranked number one on the African continent — especially if his ambitions hinge on this crop of players.

In a recent interview with the Mail & Guardian Nematandani said this is ”realistic because we were the best in 1996 and nothing will stop us from achieving the same [feat] again”.

Nematandani and the South African Football Association (Safa) started on the right path. They appointed SuperSport United coach Gavin Hunt, Cosmos boss Jomo Sono and AmaZulu director of coaching Clive Barker to assess the team’s performance and help Bafana Bafana get back on track.

The national team’s performance, under the guidance of Joel Santana, has been dismal. They have lost eight of their past nine matches in a downward spiral that can be traced back to the Confederations Cup.

The worst defeat came on Tuesday at the hands of European minnows Iceland, a country with a population of about 320 000 that could probably fit into a section of Soweto. Iceland are ranked 96 in the Fifa world rankings, whereas Bafana Bafana are placed higher at number 73.

Poor form has become synonymous with the Brazilian’s 17-month reign as head coach. Under Santana Bafana Bafana embarrassingly failed to qualify for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. Failing to make the continental showpiece is a disgrace for a country that will host the 2010 Fifa World Cup. But Raymond Hack, the chief executive officer of Safa, said: ”It was a blessing in disguise.” The only blessing is that Bafana, as 2010 World Cup hosts, will play in a major tournament next year.

Leading Africa football analyst Mamadou Gaye predicted this week that Bafana Bafana will continue to be a disgrace as long as Santana is the head coach. ”Last year Hack justified Santana’s failure. That was enough to call a football indaba. The priority of the leadership should have been the national team. The problem is not only with Bafana Bafana but deep within Safa and the Premier Soccer League [PSL], which always has fixtures when the national team is scheduled to play. Safa went and hired a coach who, before coming to South Africa, had never coached a foreign team.”

Gaye’s sentiments were echoed by former Bafana Bafana coach and executive technical director Ted Dumitru, who said: ”The blunder was made by former Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira when he recommended Santana, knowing very well that he didn’t have national coaching experience. And those who hired him should shoulder the blame.”

Bafana Bafana have had 11 coaches since 1992. Although there are calls for Santana to be fired, it would be folly to hold him solely responsible for the team’s woes. Some of the players are not worthy to be representatives of the country and must also face the music. In the past few matches Bafana Bafana players have shown little commitment on the field. The team everyone is seeing is different from the one that played in the recent Confederations Cup, where they showed hunger for success. Was it because there were huge financial incentives in place? If so, it smacks of a mercenary attitude.

”Most of these players don’t deserve to be in the team,” said Gaye. ”I can put together a team from the national first division that will beat Bafana Bafana 5-0. We have mediocre players in the team because the selection is biased. You have to play for the big teams to be part of the national team. Players are not there on merit. Teko Modise is the two-time PSL footballer of the year and yet his team has won nothing. That says a lot about the influence the football bosses have. He has a lot of weight on his shoulders and he cannot deliver.”

Questions have also been raised about the selection of captain Aaron Mokoena and MacBeth Sibaya, who have been with the national team for a long time but don’t seem to add any value.

Dumitru said former Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter compiled a report for Safa in 2005 in which he singled out a few players who should be dropped but who surprisingly are still with the team. ”They didn’t add value at the time and are of no use now,” he said.

”What is happening with the national team is embarrassing. Players are just selected and thrown in the deep end. They need to be developed because they can’t pass, trap the ball or attack, and they don’t know what to do when they are under pressure. The team lacks technical vision and we shouldn’t blame the players but those who select them.”

He said: ”Take Modise, for example. He plays well for Pirates but struggles in the national team. Everyone expects him to perform the same miracles, which is impossible. He was not exposed at an early age to international football. Safa should be blamed. They have not done anything to help players perform to their best abilities.”

Dumitru said that Santana shouldn’t be fired now. ”We should select our best players and put them through intensive modern football training methods if we are to be competent at the World Cup.”