Amaglug-glug coach David Notoane faces Olympics selection squad dilemma
With just a few weeks left until SA’s under-23 men’s team kicks off its Olympic campaign against hosts Japan, the side’s technical team ponders who should don the national colours at the sports extravaganza.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
David Notoane, South Africa’s national under-23 coach, is expected to name his final squad of 18 for the Olympic Games before the end of June. With an array of quality youngsters to choose from, the coach has his work cut out.
Under the under-23 tournament rules at the Games, participating nations are permitted to include three players who are over the age limit.
One of the conundrums that Notoane faces is whether to take a squad made up solely of under-23 players, with the intention of blooding them on a prestigious international platform before easing them into the senior side.
Since his appointment, new Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos has continually stressed his intention to make the senior team more youthful.
During his first formal engagement with South African journalists in May, Broos revealed that the South African Football Association (Safa) had asked him to take charge of the under-23 side for the Olympics. He declined the offer out of respect for Notoane.
“They asked me. I said I will not do that,” Broos said. “Why? I need to have respect for the coach who qualified the under-23s for Japan. I will not come now and say I will do it. I have confidence in him.
“I will be monitoring the games. There will be no problem. But he will stay the coach. And I think I have to respect that.”
Having young players come into the senior national side on the back of what will hopefully be a successful Games would be ideal for Broos’s philosophy. It would be the perfect springboard for building the competitive Bafana side that he envisions for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) and the 2026 Fifa World Cup.
That ball is already in motion. Earlier this month, as Bafana played their first competitive game since missing out on Afcon 2022 Cameroon, some of the prospects for Notoane’s travelling party appeared for the national team.
Denwin Farmer, Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, Ethan Brooks and Evidence Makgopa were all called up for the friendly tie against Uganda. Baroka striker Makgopa was the pick of the lot, scoring twice on debut as South Africa defeated Uganda 3-2.
Vanquished in Egypt
While this was happening, Notoane and another group of players were preparing to face under-23 Afcon Champions Egypt in the North African country.
The Pharaohs were ultimately too strong for Amaglug-glug, beating them 2-0 and 3-0 in the two friendlies recently.
Egypt and Ivory Coast will also be representing the continent at the Olympics.
Despite the disappointment of defeat, and the exposure of some glaring deficiencies, Notoane said he and his technical staff had learnt a great deal from the two matches.
“The tour was intense and gave us a chance to see some of our foreign-based players,” said Notoane.
“It gave us a chance to see what we wanted to see in overseas players.”
Some of those foreign-based players include defender Tercious Malepe (Mynai, Ukraine), striker Lyle Foster (Vitoria Guimares, Portugal), midfielders Thabo Cele (Cova da Piedade, Portugal), Luke le Roux (Varbergs Bois FC, Sweden) and Luther Singh (Paços de Ferreira, Portugal).
“We have a few other players abroad, but because of Covid-19 and quarantine issues, they could not join us,” Notoane said in his autopsy of the side’s performance. “Yes, the results and performances were disappointing, but we took many positives from the two friendlies. We now have an understanding of what our core players have to offer.
“Some of our best players who performed well in the PSL [the South African Premier Division] also could not make the tour. All in all, we have a good blend and once we are fully prepared, we’ll be a strong unit.”
The old guard
Another conundrum that faces Notoane is which overage players, if any, to take to the tournament.
The likes of Percy Tau, Themba Zwane, Mosa Lebusa and Ronwen Williams have been thrown around as potential selections. In April, Notoane named these players as part of his 40-man preliminary squad.
Of course, choosing them would deprive three young players of an opportunity to gather valuable international experience.
Notoane, though, feels that having these experienced players to guide the youngsters could grant them an edge over the other sides in their group.
South Africa finds itself in Group A, alongside hosts Japan, 2012 Olympic gold medallists Mexico and firm favourites to finish first in the group, France.
“We are going to a global showpiece. We are going to come up against the best of the best out there. So, we also need to make available the best talents‚” Notoane said of potentially including the over-age players.
He said it was important to strengthen the team “in certain key areas” and also bring in personalities that could help advance the team’s cause. “We are going to the Olympics not to add numbers – we are going to come back with a medal. We are going to the Olympics to improve on South Africa teams’ performances generally.”
Amaglug-glug have never made it out of the tournament’s group stages.
In Sydney 2000, they finished third in their group after one win and two losses.
They would fail to qualify for the next three editions of the quadrennial showpiece, before making a return in 2016. This time they ended dead last on two points after playing to two draws and a loss.
Tau, who will be the headline name in the squad if he’s included, may not be so keen to even be part of the squad. The forward was recalled by his parent club Brighton and Hove Albion from a loan-spell in Belgium back in January.
Since his return to the Premier League side, Tau has found minutes on the field hard to come by. The former Mamelodi Sundowns man featured in just three league matches for the Seagulls in the second half of the 2020/21 season.
“I want to stay on at the club and fight for my place in the team, that’s where I stand and that’s where the club stands,” Tau told SowetanLive. I definitely want to stay at the club and that is the way it is until something different happens.”
Playing at the Olympics could potentially set him back in this regard. He would likely miss out on the team’s pre-season preparations as a result. Moreover, the Games don’t fall under the Fifa international calendar, so clubs are not obligated to release players.
As such, even if Tau is willing to travel to Japan, Brighton could block the move.
These are some of the considerations that have likely been playing on Notoane’s mind as he selects his final soldiers for battle. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.
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