Bafana Are Just An Expensive Skorokoro
At the time of writing this column, Bafana Bafana had not yet faced Senegal in the Mandela Challenge international friendly, and quite possibly our team put in a performance that has the whole country gushing today. It might be a case of all is forgiven and let's move on.
But regardless of the result, let's keep in perspective that Bafana are renowned for doing well in friendlies. Heck, we even once beat the 2010 world champions Spain in a friendly not so long ago. It seems that when nothing is really at stake, we are brave warriors playing for the pride of our country and, in last night's case, to honour the memory of Madiba. But when it counts in competition, when the chips are down and the country desperately needs a result, we are more often than not let down.
Now a lot of fingers are being pointed at Shakes Mashaba. Ironically the same scoreline that elevated him to hero status amongst South Africans – the famous 3-1 win against Brazil in 2000 in the Olympics which Shakes, at the time, described as "the greatest achievement in the country's soccer history" – is the same scoreline that is being used to beat him with now after the Mauritania game, and is certainly up there with one of the lowest points in this country's soccer history.
Robert Marawa had Shakes rattled on his Monday night show this week and my twitter timeline is full of insults and rants directed at Shakes. And while it is natural for the head coach to take the heat after an embarrassing loss, I do feel somewhat for Shakes because at the end of the day he didn't build the car that is Bafana Bafana. He was just handed the keys to this ride by SAFA – the keys to a car, which should be a super racer (we’d even settle for a luxury sedan like the ones parked at the shiny offices at SAFA house) when you consider all the money SAFA has had to build it. But our Bafana remains nothing more than a very expensive skorokoro. Yes, our car that should be flying upfront with the best on the continent simply continues to Shake, rattle and roll down the FIFA and CAF rankings.
To be quite honest, I'm tired of even trying to defend them anymore. You'd think it'd be easier for a Bafana back four to defend against Mauritania than for us, Bafana fans, to defend our national soccer team, but it's not. I used to look forward to watching Bafana play because I held on to this belief that we had something special about us. I bought into the whole, “We're like an African version of Brazil, with our tricks and flair and touches on the ball.” The truth is we're the laughing stock of a continent. We boast about having the best domestic league in Africa. We talk about the money that is pouring in, the fact that major TV deals are done and that sponsors love the product because of how healthy it looks. We puff out our chests because we hosted a World Cup, the legacy of which is now empty stadiums on game days that will, in the next couple of years no doubt, become mere carcasses of the white elephants they currently are. PSL coaches and players are paid very handsomely – so much so that our overseas-based players are finding it financially viable to return to South Africa to make a living – and this at a time when the rand is plummeting against major currencies. And yet the pinnacle of our footballing pyramid – the reason for which all of this exists, which is to provide for the creation of a strong and proud national team… well, we can all see for ourselves what we have become.
Every time we embarrass ourselves like this, I, and I'm sure many of you, are told by all and sundry how crap our soccer is in this country. I am asked why our national cricket and rugby team are world contenders and our soccer team are average pretenders, and usually I can make quite a strong argument and then hope like hell when we next play in a Bafana jersey we do something special. Usually my argument is based on the fact that very few countries play rugby or cricket, so it's not that difficult to be among the top five in the world, but we got hammered by Mauritania, people! It wasn't like it was Brazil or Argentina. I'm sure our Springboks would beat any country on our continent, and there are some African countries that are very passionate about that game with the odd shaped ball.
The sad part is that this was an opportunity to show all of South Africa what unity in sport can look like; how good we can be when colour is not a focal point of selection, but rather ability and togetherness and passion for the sport. It was a chance to show South African rugby supporters what a beautiful game looks like. Instead, we're the laughing stock of a sporting nation.
Now you and I will both hear from SAFA that "fixing" our national team will take time and that we must be patient and understand that these things don't change overnight. But is this not the same thing we heard 10 years ago? Is this not the same thing we heard in 2010 when we hosted a World Cup? At what stage does SAFA's time elapse on delivering a powerful national team to a country that is besotted with soccer? When will we see SAFA getting a Shake-up?
It seems while the country is just coming to terms with load shedding, maybe it's time for 'expectation shedding' to be undertaken with regards to Bafana Bafana.
I've lost hope.