Gordon Igesund’s three principles of football are the three points awarded for a win. His philosophy is “whatever works”.
In the Nineties Igesund was pilloried by the purists for his skop-en-donner tactics at Manning Rangers and in 2001 he was physically attacked on the Orlando Pirates training pitch by two taxi-loads of Bucs fans with deep aesthetic grievances.
But seven years later he was in charge of a Mamelodi Sundowns side that compiled a tiki-takalicious sequence of 60 uninterrupted passes against Kaizer Chiefs. And his Moroka Swallows side have been anything but ugly.
Igesund adjusts his ideas to the players in front of him and his pragmatism has bagged him four titles with four different Premier Soccer League sides. It is the kind of post-ideological voodoo that Bafana could use. Under Carlos Alberto Parreira, Bafana adopted sedate possession football as their style, but it was about as deadly as a styrofoam hammer. Pitso Mosimane raised the tempo a bit, but with little effect.
Spain’s artful massacre of Italy in Kiev, Ukraine, was a watershed for thinking football, but Bafana cannot afford to think too much right now. Yes, the South African game as a whole needs to develop and embrace a root-and-branch national style based on control and vision, but the priority for the senior national side is much simpler: grow some balls.
Former Bafana goalkeeper André Arendse won the league under Igesund with Santos in 2002 and has been tipped to join his old boss’s technical team as goalkeeper coach. He said he had not been approached but backed Igesund to bring some variety and cutting edge to Bafana.
“He has to deliver an attractive game, as he did with Swallows and Sundowns, because most of the best South African players have become used to playing on the deck,” Arendse said. “But, because Gordon also likes direct football, he will mix and match a bit. He will bring some ‘route one’ options to the side.”
There was much said this week about the ruthless performance mandate given to Igesund – he is expected to qualify for the World Cup and reach the semifinals of the Nations Cup to stay in the job. But Igesund does not believe these are excessive demands and Arendse agreed.
“We’ll be on home soil,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we get to the semi-finals? And we have to get this monkey off our back when it comes to qualifying for major tournaments.”
Arendse is thrilled by the prospect that fellow 1996 Nations Cup champion Lucas Radebe may join Igesund’s side as team manager.
“It doesn’t necessarily boil down to having a coaching background,” he said. “You’re not going to teach these players anything new. It’s about a winning mentality – we bring that because of our achievements in the past. Guys like Lucas, Mark Fish and myself know how to walk on to a field with the belief that we’re not going to get beaten today, even if the opponents are Brazil.”
But no amount of winning mentality will see Bafana beat Brazil in São Paulo, Igesund’s maiden game in September. After that, the scheduled friendly opponents are Algeria at home, Poland away and Zambia at home.
World Cup qualifiers only resume next year and, because Bafana have been spared the 2013 Nations Cup qualification race as hosts, they are back in the tedious limbo state of endless friendlies, arguably one of the causes of their deficiencies.
Former Bafana coach Clive Barker said Igesund would need to adapt to limited contact with his players. “Gordon will find in due course that, like all of us, he’s not invincible. And coaching a national side is a totally different task to coaching a club.”
Igesund was born in Durban in 1956, a descendant of Norwegian settlers who arrived at Marburg, near Port Shepstone, in 1882. He was a respected, skilful striker in the 1970s and 1980s for a catalogue of local clubs, including Durban City, Highlands Park, Bush Bucks and AmaZulu.
Mid-table Austrian club Admira Wacker signed him in 1981 and he played in Vienna for three seasons, scoring 25 goals in 76 games. But his true home was the dugout. Barker remembers being struck by how organised Igesund’s teams were as a young coach at amateur level.
“Gordon pays great attention to detail. He gets the best out of limited players and he improves good players,” Barker said. “He did have a couple of bad runs with Ajax Cape Town and Maritzburg United, but on the whole he is able to produce good results with indifferent teams.”
Bafana are as indifferent as they come – and many are urging Igesund to revise the squad as well as revive it. Igesund said this week he did not believe that playing for a club abroad made you a stronger claimant to a position than a home-based rival. “To play for the national team you have to keep earning that position,” he said. “It’s not guaranteed. A player has to be hungry and consistently performing to be picked.”
Barker is not reading too much into Igesund’s warning to the foreign legion. “Coaches usually just say that to ease the minds of the locals,” he said. “But if you’re based overseas you’re a quality player – you’re not there on holiday. And you’re still South African, after all. But there’s room for both in the squad. There won’t be a major change in selection policy.
“I’m sure a couple of his best players from Swallows will come in and he will play Siyabonga Nomvete in his rightful position as a centre-forward.”
Zapiro’s cartoon this week of Igesund receiving a pile of congratulation letters and an even larger pile of condolences summarised the nature of the task he has taken on.
But do not expect him to flinch if things get ugly. After those overzealous Bucs fans roughed him up in 2001, he did not quit in a huff – he took Pirates to the title.