Sport

Soccer: It doesn’t matter who takes the Bafana horse to water – it won’t drink

By Antoinette Muller 28 July 2014

Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba has been appointed the new Bafana Bafana coach. On the surface, that looks like the safe option. But in the greater scheme of things, it doesn’t matter who coaches the team, because some of the fundamental problems are not coachable. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

When old flames are reignited, there is often lots of tutting and caution from all corners. Some of it is born out of genuine concern; some is simply the belief that one should try not to make the same mistake twice. Right now, this is the dominant narrative in South African football after Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba was named the country’s new national football coach over the weekend.

There are two ways to view the appointment. SAFA went for the cop-out option – the cheaper one after candidates like Stephen Keshi and Carlos Queiroz would have made them baulk with their salary requirements. Or perhaps SAFA acknowledged that they needed a local guy who knows about the youth and who has a proven track record of being able to produce results at all levels.

He has produced the goods with Bafana previously – helping them qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004 – and has led a number of youth teams to varying levels of success. His record certainly isn’t as illustrious as some of the other candidates who applied, but he also knows the ins and outs of the youth setup, having spent the last four years working with various age group sides.

When he left his Bafana post back in 2004, it was under cloudy circumstances. Having refused to pick overseas-based players on a few occasions – both for a friendly against England and a training camp – he fell out with SAFA. During that time, Bafana played 18 matches, losing just three in total. Opinions remain divided in the merits of calling up “star” players for seemingly meaningless friendlies, but the decision did not sit well with the SAFA bosses. Nothing more than a yes man would do for them and Shakes certainly was not it. Now, he returns. Older, wiser and, perhaps, just a little bit more stubborn than before. His mandate is not as demanding as that of his predecessor Gordon Igesund. SAFA are not dead set on qualifying for 2015 AFCON (but it will be a nice extra), but do have their sights set on the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It remains highly unlikely that Mashaba will even make it that far, despite SAFA themselves pleading for the public’s patience with their new coach; they have never exactly practised what they preached.

The most crucial part of the Mashaba era will be using the youth aptly and negotiating with local coaches to release their players. As a local himself, this task will be much easier than it will be for an outsider. He will know and be able to advise on where the pitfalls are in bridging the gap between youth and senior level, but whether that advice is actually taken on board is another matter entirely.

From the outside looking in, it would appear that South Africa has gone for the safe (and cheaper) option. There is nothing wrong with that, but the man in charge is almost irrelevant in the context of South African football.

Whether Mashaba was the best out of the candidates who applied (a number ranging from only a handful to over 15, depending on who you ask), is almost irrelevant. Because South Africa’s problem stems from somewhere far deeper than simply needing a magic tactician – and it doesn’t matter who take this particular horse to the water, it’s not going to drink any time soon.

South Africa’s superficial solution to growing talent in the country remains a problem. While SAFA recently started to pour money into youth leagues, as long as schools pull their noses up at having the sport as part of their extracurricular activities, there will be a problem. As long as players won’t take a big step to some of the more obscure overseas clubs, there will be a problem. As long as players keep their cushy jobs with the national team while deciding willy-nilly when they are available, there will be a problem. As long as there is no sense of discipline and egos overrule talent and commitment, there will be a problem. As long as the structure of football below the Premier Soccer League borders on chaos, there will be problem.

Those concerned friends will be tutting with dismay not only because this story seems to be doomed for another unhappy ending, but because this new appointment is wasted on those who fix gaping wounds with plasters and mercurochrome. DM

Photo: Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba. (via YouTube)

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