The past six-odd months certainly haven’t been dull for Dean Furman. That’s probably the only thing that he, his critics and his praise singers can agree on.
From MTN8 glory to an illustrious run-in and the CAF Confederations Cup final, the football has been plentiful. It ultimately turned sour, though, and has left SuperSport United scrambling for its Premier Soccer League life.
Eric Tinkler, unsurprisingly, took the coach’s exit door thanks to the turmoil. Amid the club shenanigans, Furman has endured a volley of criticism and accusations that he doesn’t belong in the Bafana Bafana setup — something he is well used to at this point.
The Mail & Guardian caught up with the Matsatsantsa captain to explore the keys to league safety, the pressures of Africa and his attitude towards the doubters.
A PSL survival campaign is an alien exercise to both player and club. It’s a reality that’s especially difficult to face up to coming off the highs of a continental run. Defeat in the Confederation Cup final last year must have been crushing, but shouldn’t take away from what was a sublime journey. It’s painfully ironic, then, that it’s that very success that may have bred the current predicament.
“It’s a bittersweet one. It was an incredible experience for us,” Furman told the M&G. “To represent your country and the club on the continent is a great honour, and to do it so well is fantastic. Of course it’s possibly had an effect, [but] we can’t measure that effect.”
Whatever that effect was, it’s something SuperSport has had to do all over again. Shortly after Tinkler’s resignation, the side travelled to Angola to take on Petro Atlético and, most recently, to Kenya to face Gor Mahia. There will be no further crack at final destiny this year, as United fell out at the playoff stages on Wednesday night.
Thabo Mnyamane gave the hosts a 2-1 lead at the Lucas Moripe Stadium on the night, but it was not enough to overcome the 2-2 aggregate score. The failure to score an away goal at Machakos in Kenya would ultimately prove decisive.
Now it is up to Matsatsantsa to focus on their league run-in. It could be prettier — they face Baroka FC, Free State Stars and Chippa United — but it’s one they’ll be confident of prancing over to reach the safety net. If they are to overhaul three of this season’s mid-table stalwarts, they’ll need to rediscover their goal accuracy and ruthless touch. Nil-nils have been the theme of late — four in the past two months.
Furman, a natural leader if multiple Bafana coaches are to be believed, has no doubt the lads can be rallied to force a necessary strong finish.
“The mood in the camp is strong,” he insists. “We’ve shown character before: we’ve shown character in good times; we’ve shown character when we’re fighting in CAF; we’ve shown character when we were playing in the Nedbank [Cup] and winning trophies; and we have to show character in the tough times.
“I think [we should] continue with the performances. I think we have to start scoring goals. It’s as simple as that — we’ve gone on quite a few games now without scoring.
“But we’re pushing, and it’s just about making those right decisions in the final third. Our work rate, our pressing, our defensive shape has been very solid over the last few games,” he says.
When his club’s malaise was at its worst, Furman took a lashing from fans. Bafana’s trip to Zambia during the international break at the end of March again sparked the feverish cries that he doesn’t warrant his regular call-ups and prominent status in the national team.
The hardened midfielder probably wouldn’t be where he is if he let such voices crawl into his head. “I always face critics. I said [this] before, as I said about my call-up. I’ve been constant over three coaches over six years. I’m close to 50 caps, so I must be doing something right.”
The talk of Furman’s “belonging” likely stems from his agricultural style of play — hard work and hustle over flash. Incubated in England, he puts in a solid shift with little to no added spice. Some fans may despise it, but he’s hardly apologetic.
“I understand that I’m not everyone’s favourite player,” he acknow-ledges. “I understand that I don’t necessarily bring the shibobos and the skills and that style of play that is so revered in this country. I bring a certain element of hard graft, of tactical understanding and a bit of leadership that I believe is helpful to a team.
“And if the coach feels fit to select me, then it’s a great honour for me. As players, we have to deal with that and have to be able to go out and prove the critics wrong. So for me it’s nothing new. It’s something that’s followed me all throughout my Bafana career,” he says.
“Football’s a game of opinions and everyone’s entitled to their opinion. So, for me, I’m old enough and wise enough, and I’ve seen enough now to not be affected by that.”
If ever there was a time that the noise should be muted it’s now, as Furman focuses on what could be a bitter battle in the coming weeks.