The Cold Truth About Our Bafana...
So the PSL is back! Finally, a competition that we know a South African team can win! Meanwhile the new kings of Africa, Ivory Coast, have been crowned deserved champions of the continent. When comparing the Ivory Coast team that played in the final to the team that South Africa took to the AFCON, it is easy to see the uphill battle facing Shakes Mashaba or any Bafana coach, past and future. It also becomes clear why Bafana Bafana will continue to struggle to qualify for the World Cup and will continue to be the whipping boys of Africa.
Right now, when Bafana go to a major tournament, it is akin to Namibia going to a rugby or cricket World Cup… maybe not in our eyes, but certainly in the eyes of those who are witnessing us. And that’s an embarrassing fact for such a proud sporting nation.
No disrespect to our players, who through sheer will, determination and an audacious amount of natural talent seem to be able to punch way above their weight class, but, in the end, the reality is that the quality these other African heavyweights bring to the game will always shine through.
Just look at the players in the Ivory Coast team who are now African champions and where they are plying their trade… and not only just making up the numbers, but dominating: Yaya Toure - the best box-to-box midfielder in the EPL, if not Europe, and one of the main reasons Manchester City are champions of England; Gervinho – Roma, formerly a star for Arsenal; Max Gradel – a young player who was courted by Arsenal and Chelsea, and now plays in France with Saint Étienne; Wilfred Bony – Manchester City as the most expensive signing in the recent transfer window; Kolo Toure – Liverpool... and on, and on, and on.
Then, when you hold that list up against our Bafana team that went to the AFCON, it immediately becomes clear that South Africa is far off the pace. It’s like we’re taking a go-kart to a formula one race and hoping it holds its own, and then blaming the driver when it doesn’t. But it’s the manufacturers we should really be looking at. It’s in SAFA development structures where the construction of a national team begins. It’s in the PSL and their academies, where young players should get battle hardened and honed to face the best in the world. We certainly have 11 players which, when put on the field, can beat almost any team in the world in one isolated game, or in a friendly where the stakes are not that high and other teams are more willing to let us land punches, but put us in a group where statistics based on our history rank us as the worst team in the group, and nine times out of 10 we’re going to finish last in that group.
There is a reason the teams in Africa that perform well on the continent are dominant over a long period of time. Their players are either playing in top leagues abroad or, in the case of Egypt where their players tend to stay at home, their club sides are dominant in continental club competitions, so their players always have top-level battle time when it comes to international games. Yes, at times countries win despite their lack of pedigree, but it will be in one-off matches. Greece won the Euro Championship in 2004, but have won nothing since. Bafana won an AFCON in 1996, but have won nothing since. Fairy tales in football do come true, but dominating on the world stage of football takes more than a collection of fairy tales. It requires a blue print – a hard copy with planning and clearly set goals.
Our teams are unable to consistently reach the last four of major international or continental club tournaments. We are not seen as a threat when it comes to qualifiers. And, when we do qualify, we are pleasing on the eye at times, but that’s where the fascination ends. There are no international pundits talking about Bafana Bafana as dark horses of any tournament. Even in our own World Cup on our own soil, we couldn’t get out of our group.
We need to change our stars… our destiny. I’m not sure it’s this group of players that will be able to do that, but perhaps they can take the wheel and steady the ship. It’s the next generation – the 16 and 17-year-olds – that we need to start transforming into world-beaters. It can’t be out of our reach for the simple fact that Rugby South Africa and Cricket South Africa are able to do it on a regular basis, with black, white and coloured kids. They don’t make excuses. They just get on with it!
As much as I hate to admit it, maybe it’s time that SAFA, instead of painting pictures that progress has been made because a delegation was sent to Germany to see how they develop players and have modelled development on them, or because a delegation went to Brazil to learn more, perhaps it’s time instead to look in the mirror and decide what is best for us, to discover what is unique about us and will allow us to become world-beaters. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can become a proud soccer country again, not one that crosses its fingers and hopes for the best every time a contest looms on the horizon.
But hey, we have a very lucrative PSL that the whole of Africa eyes with envy, so let’s get back to watching that...