Banyana Banyana had the nation’s heart aflutter with their 2018 African Women’s Cup of Nations campaign, finishing as runners-up and securing a spot at the Women’s World Cup. But the team’s success is anything but a fluke
Fresh from an impressive display at last year’s African Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon), which included a 1-0 victory in the opening game against Nigeria before losing to the same team in a penalty shootout in the final, Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis is not complacent about future success. She believes that a good relationship between the senior women’s national team coaches and junior team mentors can ensure ongoing success for the women’s senior professional team.
Too often successful national teams, punch-drunk on present successes, fail to put in place plans for the future.
Poor succession and developmental planning was blamed when the men’s senior national soccer team, Bafana Bafana, withered away after their historic 1996 Africa Cup of Nations triumph and subsequent qualification for the 1998 France World Cup after beating the Republic of Congo 1-0 in August 1997.
But the women’s team is aware of the challenges of continuity.
“We are constantly looking at refreshing the squad and getting in new faces now and again. And it is very important that we look to the coaches of the junior teams for recommendations. The relationship we have is very solid, because junior team coaches know the strengths and weaknesses of their players and they can tell when they are ready for Banyana,” says Ellis, a former Banyana captain.
She adds, however, that recruitment is not only limited to players who are already playing in a national team setup, and that any player deemed deserving to play for Banyana would be selected.
An example is Banyana’s red-hot striker Busisiwe Ndimeni.
Before being called up for Awcon, she had not played for the national team in almost three years. It was not until her impressive performances for Tshwane University of Technology caught the eye of Ellis that she made it back into the senior team.
“We are not closing doors on any player. Any player who raises her hand will be counted,” says Ellis. “But it’s always easier when we work closely with coaches from junior ranks who can make strong suggestions. Look, for our last [Awcon qualifier] camp for Lesotho, we invited Under-17 goalkeeper Jessica Williams, and Linda Motlhalo and Mapaseka Mpuru also joined in camp. These are the players we look at including into the Banyana setup in future. But now the idea is to expose them to the senior team setup.”
Mpuru and Motlhalo were key to the SA Under-17 team’s quest to qualify for the 2017 World Cup. And from their impressive showing, a call-up to the Banyana camp was a natural progression.
“You can’t talk football and not talk development. That’s why it’s important to have communication as coaches in all structures. It’s also good because players from Banyana must know that their positions are not permanent so that is why I normally tell players to always be the best they can be. They must always know that there are younger and hungrier players who are looking to be included in the Banyana squad,” says Ellis.
Ellis’s feelings about the importance of sequential planning are shared by the national Under-20 women’s coach, Maud Khumalo.
Khumalo recently guided the team known as Basetsana to a successful title defence at the African Union Sports Council Region 5 Games after a 1-0 victory over hosts Botswana in the final in Gaborone on December 15.
Even though Ellis has already succeeded in qualifying Banyana for the World Cup, Khumalo, also a former Banyana player, will soon be preparing her team for the 2020 Women’s World Cup.
Fifa will announce the host nation for this tournament by the end of the first quarter of 2019.
Khumalo, a tough-tackling defender who played alongside Ellis for Banyana in the 1990s, says communication between the coaches creates space for continuity.
“We communicate a lot — Desiree, Simphiwe [Dludlu, the Under-17 coach] and myself, because we want similar things but in different ways. For instance, Simphiwe and I want to develop these players and get them ready for Banyana, while Desiree constantly looks at refreshing Banyana by including the younger players from the development structures,” says Khumalo.
She praises Ellis for her “other strength” of being a solid talent-spotter who always shops for new blood.
“When I recommended players like Khanya Xesi she had one look at her and was convinced and Khanya now plays for Banyana. Desiree trusts us to know the players better in terms of strengths and weaknesses because we are the ones developing them.”
Khumalo blames the failure of succession planning back in the 1990s for the downfall in the men’s team.
“I don’t think at the time there were close ties between the Under-23 coach and senior coaches. The players who were coached by Shakes Mashaba [at the Sydney Olympics], for example, were good enough to play for Bafana. But we never saw them after that.
“For the World Cup in 2020, I can’t ignore the players from the Under-17s because they do have the World Cup qualifying experience and they have been to the World Cup. So, I will also be looking at boosting the team with some of those players,” says Khumalo.
She also emphasises the importance of education for players, as this, she says, could open doors for them to play for big leagues.
“Look at [Banyana player] Thembi Kgatlana [who plays in the US for Houston Dash]. She received a scholarship after matric and is now playing abroad.”
As the Under-17 women’s national team coach, Dludlu has often spoken about the importance of players mixing football with education.
“We try not to get the kids out of school, but if that happens we request the work from school so that they don’t fall behind. That way, if there are problems, the school can be able to speak to the parents directly if there’s something a child is [struggling] with,” she says.
South African Football Association spokesperson Dominic Chimhavi says the way coaching is structured in the association fits well with developmental mandates.
“It’s always been our way, doing things so that all the [national team] coaches have that close relationship. Even in our men’s teams — the coach of the Under-17s is the assistant to the Under-20 coach, and the Under-20 coach is the assistant to the Under-23s, while Under-23 assists the senior national team coach. All of this is done with continuity in mind, because all the younger coaches recommend players to the seniors,” says Chimhavi.