/ 21 August 2014

Shakes has little to play with

Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba has no time to nurture new talent.
Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba has no time to nurture new talent.

Ephraim Mashaba will reveal his hand for the first time on Friday and, true to his nickname, is expected to shake up the existing order in the national team as South Africa ready for the upcoming African Nations Cup qualifiers.

It might not be the best of ideas.

The Bafana Bafana coach will name a squad for two matches against the Sudan and Nigeria that is likely to be top-heavy with locally based players and have one or two surprises in the mix.

Mashaba’s choices will concentrate on the Premier Soccer League, not because of any lingering resentment over foreign-based players, which he was accused of during his previous tenure, but because of a paucity of substantial talent based overseas.

But still the likes of Thulani Serero, May Mahlangu, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Ayanda Patosi (likely to miss out this time after recent knee surgery) are the obvious foundation on which a new era for the national team can be built.

All are 25 and under, playing in decent European leagues and of sufficient ability and personality around which to build a future national team.

Mashaba has already hinted that youth will be a factor, although he would be wise not to try too hard to present a much-changed look about the Bafana set-up. It does need some adjustment and tinkering but not too radical a departure, as if the team is starting all over from scratch. To discard experience gained over recent years, for the sake of being different and marking out a new era, has every possibility of backfiring badly.

Obscure players
Gordon Igesund, when he took over in late 2012, made a conscious effort to be as contrary as he could to his predecessor Pitso Mosimane, calling up a bevy of obscure players from across Europe he claimed he had watched on DVD who would bolster Bafana.

As it turned out, only Dean Furman proved an asset, the rest departing almost as quickly as they arrived, palpably not up to international standard.

Very quickly Igesund’s selections looked much the same as the coaches before him had been choosing. The shortage of real talent meant the side almost picked itself and not much has changed since.

Mashaba has been given a wishy-washy mandate by the South African Football Association – to qualify the team for the next World Cup in 2018 but not set any targets for the 2015 and 2017 Nations Cup.

He has hinted he will look for youngsters to build a team over the next four years. But at national team level this is a pipe dream because, unlike a club scenario, there is no time to nurture and expose players to international competition and slowly bring them along. With an average of just 10 games a year, stretched from February to November, Bafana Bafana cannot be an incubator.

Not enough games
Form vacillates, injuries impact and scenarios change drastically, even from week to week. There are simply not enough games to mould or form a side at national team level, particularly in the rigour of qualifying competition. The best any coach can hope for is the consistency of selection that comes with positive results.

There will also be no patience or appetite for repeated failure as Mashaba seeks to bed in. The new Bafana coach must be made aware he is in a results-orientated post and be encouraged to plan game by game to win. Tempering disappointment or criticism by pretending the team is a work in progress will leave South Africa slipping even further behind.

If Mashaba is tasked with ensuring Bafana are among the five African teams to qualify for Russia in four years’ time, then surely he must qualify the team as one of 15 to go to the Nations Cup finals in Morocco in January and the 2017 edition two years hence.

Participation in the two continental championships is vital to ensuring a successful World Cup qualification campaign.

Do we need another Soweto Derby?

The prospect of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates meeting in an early season cup final on September 20 is a near certainty after both teams won away in the first leg of their MTN8 semifinals last weekend.

Pirates, still struggling to find form in front of goal, are 2-0 up going into Saturday night’s tie against Bidvest Wits while Chiefs have the same advantage with a home game to come against Platinum Stars on Sunday.

It almost guarantees an extra derby on the calendar this season, just as the same competition delivered last year, except then it was at the semifinals stage and ensured two additional games.

At its most intense, the derby is still the country’s leading sporting fixture, unable to find a stadium big enough to accommodate all those who want to attend.

But a proliferation of matches between the two clubs in recent years in various competitions, as well as lucrative friendlies, means this glamour clash is in danger of losing its lustre.

It has been a long time since a match between the two clubs thrilled anybody; they have been notoriously dull in recent seasons.

A cup final between the two at Soccer City will likely reaffirm the status of the rivalry but if there are empty seats it will be a barometer of potentially dangerous times to come for the domestic game as it will present evidence that slavish devotion to the two is beginning to wane. – Mark Gleeson