Lock and load, here we go again. New coach, new era, new faces, new challenges. Bafana have been here before and the latest coach has already had to contend with a fair share of criticism, before he’s even taken the team to the field. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Bafana Bafana’s new boss hasn’t exactly had the smoothest of rides in preparation for his first big task. The team is in Khartoum for a Group A African Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Sudan on Friday, but Shakes Mashaba has already had to fend off criticism before even stepping onto the pitch.
His appointment was met with mixed reactions, but no reaction got his back up quite as much as referring to him as the “cheap” option. With candidates such as Stephen Keshi and Carlos Queiroz also being considered in the hunt for the right person for the job, Mashaba was considerably more affordable.
“It hurts to be called a cheap option; how do you refer to another person as cheap?” Mashaba asked.
“I have a family which I must protect and people backing me; those comments were inconsiderate and insensitive. I’m the longest-serving Bafana Bafana coach. Show me the records of the more ‘expensive coaches’ and tell me what they have done for the national team of South Africa.
“These so called expensive options have destroyed our football. Some of the criticisms we read about in the newspapers are uncalled for, and they seem to be personal,” he said.
“It makes us stronger. However we need people to come up with solutions. We don’t mind criticism as long as it is done in a positive manner, which can take us forward,” he added.
With that out of the way, Mashaba now has to deal with being without his number one goalkeeper, Itumeleng Khune, and having picked a relatively inexperienced squad for the clash. With no qualification mandate hanging over Mashaba’s head, he is free to experiment a little more and take the chances pervious coaches were perhaps too scared to take.
This kind of freedom of expression can do wonders both for a squad and a coach. Mashaba might not carry the weight of reputation with him, but that does not mean he is bereft of adequate credentials. Still, it’s the ‘new era’ for the team, a term that has been used too often in recent years.
Mashaba’s plan is clearly for the long-term. He is building for the future and has adopted the mandate of ‘sustainable’ results with an eye on the 2022 World Cup prize, while hoping to spring a few surprises along the way.
“Everybody loves a winner. We might be restructuring and building up for 2022, but at the same time we need to get results. We have the Afcon, the World Cup , the Olympics – all of these become springboards for the 2022 World Cup,” he said.
Nobody knows the players better than Mashaba. He has worked with many at various age group levels and has brought success with them, too.
Nhlakanipho Ntuli, Siyanda Ngubo, Ayabulela Magqwaka and Dumisani Msibi all played under him in the SA under-21 side. Magqwaka has only played a few matches in the Premier Soccer League and has not featured for Ajax Cape Town this season, but Mashaba is not letting this trouble him.
“We know what Ayabulela can offer because he has been with the under-20s. He’s a very good player and we cannot omit him just because he doesn’t play for his club,” Mashaba said.
Also untested is Chippa United’s David Zulu. He finished as the top scorer in the National First Division last season, but hasn’t really been tested in the top flight.
While Mashaba’s overhauling of the team is admirable, he is also raised a few eyebrows. The omission of Thulani Serero, arguably South Africa’s best player following the retirement of Steven Pieneaar, is something that has raised plenty of eyebrows. A creative midfielder who had a great season with his overseas club, Ajax, last year, Serero brings oomph to the side to help power home the goals they have so been lacking. He is only 24, which means there are a few years left in his tank. Yet at the squad announcement, he was not able to fully explain why Seroro was left out.
Serero has had a few clashes with Safa and was sent home from a Bafana camp ahead of a World Cup qualifier last year, so perhaps Mashaba is trying to send a message. That message would be a simple one: commit fully to the side or ship out. For him, patriotism and passion are non-negotiable..
The new assistant coach, Owen da Gama, hinted that passion and commitment is part of the criteria going forward.
“The biggest thing is to create competition and to make sure nobody holds a gun to Safa’s head. It’s going to be about patriotism and the willingness to come and play,” Da Gama said after the squad announcement. “As much as we need the overseas players, they also need us.”
It is a fairly utopian approach. Take the young players, like Germany did a few years ago, let them work together, grow together and play together. Let them skin their knees and let their egos decimate as they continue to progress. On paper, it’s a great ideology. On the field, it might be quite different, especially once Safa start getting tetchy about results.
For now, South Africa’s new boss and his new-look side face a fairly easy baptism. Sudan won’t be walkovers, but South Africa should come up on top. After that, a far sterner challenge beckons against Nigeria. Only after that will it become more apparent just what kind of new clothes the Emperor is wearing. DM
Final Bafana Bafana squad for Sudan
Goalkeepers: Darren Keet, Senzo Meyiwa, Dumisani Msibi
Defenders: Anele Ngcongca, Ayabulela Magqwaka, Sibusiso Khumalo, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Erick Mathoho, Thabo Matlaba, Rivaldo Coetzee, Ramahlwe Mphahlele
Midfielders: Themba Zwane, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Oupa Manyisa, Andile Jali, Dean Furman, Mandla Masango, Keagan Dolly, Kamohelo Mokotjo
Strikers: Tokelo Rantie, Bongani Ndulula, David Zulu, Ntsikelelo Nyauza, Nhlakanipho Ntuli, Ntsikelelo Nyauza (Orlando Pirates), Nhlakanipho Ntuli (FC Twente, Netherlands). DM
Photo: A South African fan shows her support for Bafana Banafa as she waits for the start of the 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match between France and South Africa at Free State stadium in Bloemfontein June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
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