Debates about Bafana Bafana’s indifferent performances, which have angered many football followers for years, have at times been ferocious and emotional, but there is no permanent solution on the horizon.
The question that no one has been able to answer is: Will Bafana dominate the continent again and make its mark on the world football stage? If so, when will that be?
The stagnation of the senior men’s national soccer team has been long and painful for the football-mad country, with no flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.
Bafana’s continuous inconsistency has, as a result, been used by some opportunists to call out those in power, accusing them of having no idea how to run football. The failure has been the main campaigning tool, especially during elections, when those in leadership have been denounced as being incapable.
But turning Bafana’s fortunes around is easier said than done. Those using the Bafana ticket to hoodwink society have failed to come up with any viable solutions to stop the decline. We can keep changing the coaches, but this is not where the solutions will be found.
Coach Hugo Broos recently lamented the deficiencies within the whole football ecosystem, and much as some sections of society felt he was undiplomatic and arrogant, most people thought he had touched the right nerve to stimulate further debate on how to rescue Bafana. I will tabulate the operational shortcomings in our structures and, unless these fundamentals are fully addressed, Bafana will struggle to become world-beaters and the national team will struggle to emulate the standards set between 1994 and 1998.
NATIONAL PLAYERS NEED MORE TIME TOGETHER
In the period leading up to Bafana’s win of the 1996 Afcon title, a lot had been done to prepare the team to play as a unit.
The team had several high-profile international matches, including the highly competitive Four Nations tournament. Back then, the national team took precedence over club football, unlike today, as some clubs only reluctantly release players for national duty.
That was not the case leading up to the 1996 epic and historical achievement.
Bafana coach Hugo Broos says the country does not produce quality players. Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images
By the time South Africa took over the hosting of the Afcon tournament from Kenya, Bafana had played close to a dozen international friendly matches.
It therefore came as no surprise when they walloped the likes of Cameroon, Zambia, Ghana and Tunisia – Africa’s powerhouses at the time – as they cantered to the historic title that, to date, remains the senior national men’s team’s biggest achievement.
Today, it is a tall order for the national coach to arrange a match outside the Fifa calendar, with several clubs reluctant to release their players for national duty.
But how did we arrive at this?
NSL PROGRAMMES MUST FALL IN LINE WITH SAFA
South Africa’s football controlling body Safa and the special member, the PSL, must not be seen to be competing against each other. The National Soccer League has lately introduced several knockout competitions, which leaves little space for the national team to have game time outside the Fifa calendar.
This is problematic in the sense that the Fifa calendar is so short that it does not allow the players to gel as a unit – a recipe for disaster, especially ahead of the big games.
That said, Safa must dictate how domestic football is shaped, including having a strong handle on policy matters. Issues such as how many players are eligible to play for the national team, their age groups and other matters that help develop a strong national team must come from the national controlling body
National team matches must take precedence over anything else – and this includes any club competition.
That said, Safa must dictate how domestic football is shaped, including having a strong handle on policy matters. Issues such as how many players are eligible to play for the national team, their age groups and other matters that help develop a strong national team must come from the national controlling body.
This will go a long way towards stopping the running battles – the clubs versus country debates – that have derailed the national team’s progress.
THE PSL STRUCTURE IS NOT HELPFUL
The decision made by the PSL to whittle down the Premier League from 20 to 18 clubs and then to 16 is another sticky matter that does not help the competitiveness of the national team.
The bigger the pool of players, the better. With only 16 teams to choose from, the national team coach finds himself handicapped when looking for quality players at his disposal.
Add that to the PSL’s relaxed law that allows as many as five foreign national players who do not qualify to play for Bafana to feature for any of the 16 clubs, and the headache for the national coach becomes colossal.
Ex-captain Lucas Radebe was part of the 1996 Afcon. Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images
At his press conference recently, Broos did not mince his words, blaming the league for not producing good enough players who can dominate the game on the continent, let alone in the world.
Where are the quality players? This was the same concern and frustration previous coaches Pitso Mosimane, Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, Molefi Ntseki and Stuart Baxter faced.
As we speak, most of Broos’ players are drawn from Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs – clubs that are ranked a distant 118, 337 and 414, respectively, in the world.
OUR PLAYERS MUST GO OVERSEAS
The issues of having average local players plying their trade in the PSL has resulted in very few South African footballers making the grade in top overseas leagues.
It’s a no-brainer that if one is to dominate the world, a competitive country needs to have players playing in clubs overseas, especially in the European leagues.
Countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico draw more than 95% of their national team players from leagues across Europe. It is the same for African powerhouses such as Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
South Africa’s best players are either playing in the domestic league, which is not even the best in Africa, or in lower leagues in Europe. Of late, most of our players have failed to adapt to the harsh but professional conditions overseas, with almost all of them returning home, having failed to make the grade.
This does not bode well for any country trying to be competitive, and coach Broos made this clear in his recent assessment. He said ever fewer countries in Europe were showing interest in “spoilt” South African players.
When Bafana won the 1996 Afcon, which South Africa hosted, and reached the final two years later in Burkina Faso, a good chunk of those players were household names overseas. Among them were Doctor Khumalo, Lucas Radebe, David Nyathi, Andre Arendse, Sizwe Motaung, Phil Masinga, John “Shoes” Moshoeu and Mark Williams.
Where are our top players now?
The country now has young players in Europe drawn from Safa’s development programmes, but most of them need to develop to graduate into serious Bafana players.
In a nutshell, for our senior national soccer team to become consistently competitive, Safa needs to work closely with its special member, the PSL.
The two organisations need to jointly draw up a national agenda that will see our top players learning overseas.
—Chimhavi is Safa’s stakeholder relations manager