The usual platitudes were flung around the room at the Nedbank Ke Yona challenge press conference on Tuesday. That can be expected being an event almost entirely driven by sponsorship.
The injection of money into football should be celebrated, but unfortunately it doesn’t make the prerequisite ceremony any less nauseating.
On the sidelines of the event, however, former Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba spoke candidly about what he feels is a worsening issue: the impersonal relationship between coach and player.
“You need experts in football — those are coaches. It is critical that our coaches understand the lives of players,” he said. “Let’s not just look at the contract when the player comes in.”
Mashaba drew attention to the Thamsanqa Gabuza debacle that saw the Orlando Pirates player storm off the pitch last week after receiving endless ridicule from sections of the supporters. The club visibly stood against him from the first second of the incident — coach Milutin Sredojević’s shove has been immortalised on Twitter.
“How you handle the players as coaches differs,” Mashaba, who worked with Gabuza in the national team set-up, continued. “One thing that I didn’t like that I won’t shy away from is the behaviour of the coach towards the player. I won’t pull punches on that one. He’s the one to protect the player, he should have taken the player to the dressing room and should have talked to him. Don’t go to him on the field and throw hands and shout at him — you’re killing him.
If we’re being cynical, we can assume Mashaba is paid to say most of what he does at such events. We take most of it with the legitimacy that we would a usual corporate PR exercise. Here, however, there was a true sense of sincerity around his comments.
The Ke Yona team, comprised of youngsters from around the country, will take on Free State Stars in Tembisa on Sunday. They’ll likely lose, as is tradition in this annual exhibition match against the Nedbank Cup champions, but for some it’ll be the first game of the rest of their professional lives. It may have started as phony, but it’s clear Mashaba is buying into what this project promises to represent.
“The coach can change the game, but a great coach changes a life. That’s what we need to learn as coaches.”