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Editor's Blog

Learn From Kaizer Chiefs!

I know most people will think this is about Kaizer Chiefs’ historical 1-0 away win to Wydad Casablanca in the first leg of the CAF Champions League semi-finals, but that’s not the case. That said, let me outright congratulate the Naturena-based Amakhosi for securing an important away victory and wish them all the best in their quest for a place in the final.

This week’s column is actually about Bafana Bafana and South African football at large. On paper, our national team looked impressive against a weak Uganda team when they came from 1-0 down to win the game 3-2 under two weeks ago, recording a winning debut for the new technical team led by Hugo Broos and his two assistant coaches, Cedomir Janevski and Helman Mkhalele, although only Mkhalele was on the bench, with the other two unavailable for medical reasons. Evidence Makgopa, who was a late call-up due to withdrawals that were enforced by positive COVID-19 tests, was the toast of the town as he came off the bench to score a brace on debut to lead Bafana to victory. 

The first 45 minutes left a lot to be desired on the Bafana front, with a number of reasons being given by all and sundry. Taking nothing away from the impact the last-minute withdrawals had on the team and the disastrous circumstances the technical team found themselves in, one would still expect a better performance from our national team, especially on home soil. From a number of excuses (read reasons) given for our poor and uncharacteristic showing, very little to nothing has been said about the lack of South African football identity. It is last-minute changes like we experienced that will make people realise the importance of football identity, where there’s not enough time to drill the ever-changing systems to new players in our national team. It is cases like the one against Uganda that will continue to put a stop to our shortcuts and fluke successes. It is these conditions that will force us to deal with the fundamental issues that we continue to avoid or sugarcoat in our football. 

Just recently, Kaizer Chiefs made their intentions to restore their pride crystal clear when they announced the appointment of former Bafana head coach Molefi Ntseki as their Head of Technical and Youth Development Academy. “We look forward to Molefi’s contribution within the Kaizer Chiefs set-up. We believe he will work well with all the coaches from senior to junior levels and members of the technical team as we continue to build the Club and maintain its position in South African football and growth in Africa,” read the club’s official statement, in part. Among Ntseki’s responsibilities will be upskilling, mentoring and training of Chiefs’ coaches. Essentially, it is going back to the drawing board for Amakhosi and they have realised the importance of football identity and uniformity, otherwise they would have continued as normal. Ntseki was appointed before the arrival of Stuart Baxter. Now, with Ntseki having worked with Baxter, at Bafana, surely the 51-year-old had a role to play in bringing the team’s former head coach back. After all, his role spells his duties out unequivocally. 

Whatever Baxter does in the senior team, once his paperwork has been sorted out, will be known by Ntseki, junior coaches, management and everyone at the club. They will all be singing from the same hymnbook, in terms of philosophy, style of play and the overall identity. That’s what football identity is all about. With Bafana the other day, especially in the first half, you had defenders who applied zonal marking while others applied man-marking. You had defenders who preferred to build from the back, patiently, as that’s how they do it at club level, while others preferred to kick and run, in panic. They lacked composure and were not comfortable on the ball. The same thing happened in the midfield where the runs and structure was not in sync. We lacked discipline in our positioning because we had players coming from completely different philosophies at club level. As a head coach, you have to select these different players and try to get them to play in unison, but the problem is that you’re in Mkhalele’s situation, with injuries and COVID-19 ravaging your team, and you have to assemble a team in three days! You can’t do much because this is not like preparing for the FIFA World Cup where you can have time to try and un-coach the ‘bad habits’ from club football and make players play the way you want them to. 

A lot of people will point to the fact that we had a number of debutants in the team, which means it was expected for them to perform as disappointingly as they did. The flip side to that coin is a simple question: How many of those new faces are regulars at club level? More than 90% I dare say. Now, what does that tell you? They are only new to the national team and not professional football. Match fitness wasn’t an issue at all, the problem was co-ordination of different schools of thought and getting the players to work as a team. At face value, this may look as an insignificant part of the game, but you better believe that without identity, we are not going to get far. Yes, we will have microwave-cooked successes here and there, but we won’t sustain it. You can profile a Brazilian or Italian full-back, for instance. The Spanish and Germans also have profiles. They can change players at any given time, but whoever comes in will be operating within that same profile because there’s a template. Any up-and-coming footballer is developed to master that profile, but the same, sadly, can’t be said about our own players and teams. You can’t have longevity and consistency without an identity. 

There’s a reason Clive Barker remains the most successful Bafana coach more than 25 years since he was last in charge of the team. He is undoubtedly the stingiest coach when it comes to call-ups and that’s simply because he didn’t want anyone to come and dilute the identity of his team. Barker’s team was so predictable that there was no need for a press conference to announce his call-ups because very few new faces would be drafted into his team anyway. That speaks to a coach who has got his team going and will protect it with everything he has. We’ve never been able to emulate that team simply because of the chopping and changing in our systems and philosophies. Some coaches, trying to avoid the conflicting philosophies, will go the short route and select more than five players from one team whose philosophy is closest to theirs, so that those players can carry the team. They form the spine of the team, which goes a long way in keeping shape. While this makes life easier for the technical team, it doesn’t really help the country much in the bigger scheme of things as whatever success they get will not be sustainable in the long run.    

We have a bag full of different philosophies so much that you can’t even tell what we are all about. Very few of our teams have established their own style of play and identity, while most of them figure it out as they go along. The sooner we learn from Kaizer Chiefs and have a similar approach at club level, the better our national team can really be. South African Football Association is yet to appoint a Technical Director, whose job is similar to that of Ntseki, and even more important as it is of national importance, months after the post was advertised. How many DStv Premiership teams have Heads of Technical? These are people who have a significant role to play, in collaboration with the national Technical Director and club coaches in paving the way for our football identity, but their roles continue to be treated as insignificant. Our teams don’t necessarily have to play the same style of football, but the basics and characteristics of South African footballers should be clear for everyone to see. We are blessed with unique talent and skill. That’s our strength but, sadly, over the years, it has become our weakness! Think about it.






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