/ 3 February 2024

Bafana Bafana’s glass is half full

Totalenergies Caf Africa Cup Of Nations: South Africa V Namibia
Heartfelt: Coach Hugo Broos with Bafana Bafana players at the Africa Cup of Nations match between South Africa and Namibia on 21 January in Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: Segun Ogunfeyitimi/Gallo Images

In June 2022, Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos, during one of his verbal lynchings of the state of  South African football, slammed his “short-sighted” critics for not giving him the space he needed to build a competitive international team. 

At the time, the Belgian had served 13 months in the national football team’s hot seat. It is renowned for being a revolving door, having had 19 incumbents since 1992 when South Africa returned to international competition after the release of Nelson Mandela two years prior. 

The straight-talking Broos, seemingly unperturbed by the trigger-happy South African Football Association (Safa), has riled administrators at every turn since his May 2021 appointment. 

“Again, let’s face the problem of South Africa. The problem is the level of our PSL [Premier Soccer League] is not high enough. We don’t make players with high quality,” he has repeatedly asserted.

It took Broos to remind local critics that a lack of consistency in Bafana Bafana’s coaching roles saw the team become a perennial laughing stock in football, despite the country boasting the richest and best-organised league on the continent. 

The 71-year-old was reacting to calls for him to be fired after Bafana Bafana narrowly missed qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

This was despite the fact that, under him, the team had amassed South Africa’s highest-ever points tally during a qualification phase and had missed out because of poor refereeing that favoured the home team, Ghana, which edged out Bafana Bafana on goal difference. 

“We had 13 points and, with a little bit of research, it says over the last 12 years, in all the qualifiers that SA played for Afcon, you have never had 13 points.

“The maximum was 12 points and that means this was not bad what we did [in the World Cup qualifiers] — but still, after our match against Ghana, there were critics. I didn’t understand it,” Broos said in June 2022, before going for the jugular. 

“I don’t understand why suddenly there were so many critics but I can assure you that those critics don’t affect me because it is short-sighted and cheap. People are saying the coach is not good and so on.”

It becomes no surprise, therefore, that Bafana Bafana’s most successful coach — the late Clive Barker, who won the country’s only Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) title in 1996 and qualified the national team for its first Fifa World Cup a year later —  had the longest tenure, serving from March 1994 to December 1997. 

Barker’s almost four-year service to Bafana Bafana saw him build a successful side that reached the top 20 of the best international football teams — a dizzying height the country has failed to reach again. 

For all his great work, the acclaimed coach was axed by the wise Safa suits six months before the start of the France 1998 World Cup, which Bafana Bafana qualified for, and replaced with Frenchman  Philippe Troussier, nicknamed “The White Witch Doctor”. 

Troussier knew very little about local football and the team failed to win a single game at the showpiece event — they were booted out in the first round. 

Bafana Coaches2
(Graphic: John McCann/M&G)

About 70% of the South African team at this year’s Afcon, being playing in Côte d’Ivoire, have been part of the Belgian’s squad selections for more than a year. 

The same players have given Broos a nearly 52% win ratio, winning 14 of the 27 games he has overseen and losing only five. 

Shakes Mashaba has the best record as Bafana Bafana coach, winning 55% of the 58 games he was in charge of, with five losses, across four managerial stints, none of which lasted longer than 11 months. 

Sir Alex Ferguson — the celebrated Scottish coach who managed Manchester United from 1986 until his retirement in 2013, after winning his 13th English Premier League title, to go with the two European Champions Leagues wins and a raft of other medals — put his success down to the time he was given to bring glory to a club that went 20 years without winning a league. 

“There’s no evidence that sacking a manager gives you success,” Ferguson said in a 2015 interview with sportscaster ESPN.  

“But there is evidence at Manchester United, at Nottingham Forest, at Arsenal that [if] you retain the manager for long periods, you get consistency and you get success.” 

The period and space Broos has been afforded have seen him being consistent in building a team worthy enough to compete at big tournaments, such as Afcon. 

Whether Bafana Bafana — which shocked many by making the playoff rounds, even knocking out Africa’s best team and world number 13 Morocco — goes on to clinch the biennial continental tournament should not be a mark of Broos’s success. 

What he has proved — in between the harsh truths he has dispensed — is that allowing a quality coach to work magic can only be beneficial. 

After all, Broos won the Afcon with an unfancied Cameroon team in 2017, so he has some coaching pedigree. 

Whatever happens, after the marquee continental event ends next Sunday, Broos should be allowed to take the national team through the qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup which is to be hosted by the US, Mexico and Canada. 

The glass is evidently half full for the senior men’s team. 

He has earned the right to do so after silencing naysayers, who thought he was too old to handle the rigours of managing an international team, especially one dogged by political interference and with an impatient public that pines for the glory years of the mid-1990s and early 2000s. 

As Broos said ahead of beating Morocco on 30 January, the more Bafana Bafana play in major international tournaments, the easier it will be for local players to ply their trade in major leagues overseas, especially in Europe. 

“When there’s interest [from foreign clubs], those players will have to go to Europe and get that experience. It’s something that we need in the future. Again, it’s not only important to go through [to the next Afcon rounds] but also important for South African football in general.”