Obdurate clubs leave Bafana high and dry
The preparations for the upcoming African Nations Championship (Chan) sum up why it is possible that a country with South Africa's resources languishes in mid-table in the African rankings and wallows in mediocrity, when it has the potential to be a consistently major force.
Inflated egos, self-interest and officials who pull in different directions are condemning South African football to a status way below its potential.
All of this is clearly on display as Gordon Igesund struggles to get a decent team together for a tournament that admittedly is no major priority on the world stage but does offer a golden chance to gain some much-needed experience, acumen and, most importantly, confidence.
But petty grandstanding is instead blinding any such vision, leaving preparations poor and the coach and squad scrambling to get ready.
That there is still squabbling over the call-ups from clubs – with just over a week to go before the tournament kicks off – is an indictment of the poverty of administration of the game.
An agreement on call-ups could, indeed should, have been worked out months ago, even before the start of the season, when the fixtures were finalised in July.
But Danny Jordaan, Irvin Khoza, Kaizer Motaung and Patrice Motsepe were all scrambling around on Christmas Eve trying to hammer out an agreement – and still sent out ambiguous signals about who will play and who will not.
The championship, in which only domestic-based players compete, has been on the calendar for two years. It was a package deal South Africa was forced into accepting when it desperately sought to step in and replace Libya as the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations cup finals hosts.
But the Chan, the lesser of the two events, has been plainly ignored until the last minute. No wonder our football hobbles along, perpetually held back by some crisis or another.
Igesund's preparations were due to get under way in Cape Town immediately after New Year but Mamelodi Sundowns sent out a mischievous statement in the last week of December stating they were reconsidering their commitment and only on Wednesday finally declared their players could join up with the Chan squad.
Chiefs agreed to let five players compete at Chan after the Christmas Eve talks but then changed their mind and said they would be available only after January 23, when they meet Sundowns in a top-of-the-league-table clash.
It is no surprise that promises made are broken within days.
None of the problems would have existed had the Premier Soccer League (PSL) taken cognisance of the Chan tournament and not arranged any matches until February 1, as they did last year to accommodate the Nations Cup.
They were full of excuses in recent months, claiming they could not force their clubs to release players or that to change their schedule would affect commitments to television and marketing partners.
Strange how these inhibitions do not hold them back on other occasions when it is expedient to switch the fixtures.
The Chan is essentially a chance for the domestic league to shine, to show its strength and boost its profile.
But the PSL has failed to see the public relations opportunity.
The stubbornness is silly but not unexpected. To pull in the opposite direction is almost a reflex action these days.
The tournament starts in Cape Town on January 11 with South Africa opening against Mozambique. Igesund will have had a week to get ready. Fortunately it is not a tough start but the teams from Mali and Nigeria that South Africa play after that will be much more testing.
Matches are being played in Cape Town, Polokwane and Bloemfontein, which missed out on hosting games during the last Nations Cup. Cape Town hosts two groups, and the final on February 1.
Crowds are likely to be sparse but scouts will be plentiful.
Chan, in a sense, is a godsend for many of the PSL clubs – it will be like a giant shopping mall of some of the top African talent brought right to their doorstep.
Club coaches will be keeping a close eye on players from the two Congos, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe in particular. They are relatively inexperienced and keen to move to better-paying climes.
South Africa, despite all the Machiavellian machinations, has the potential to win.
The absence of Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia means it is possible Igesund could deliver some morale-boosting silverware.
If that happens, count all the officials scrambling to get into the celebratory photographs.