Form Is Temporary, But Class Is Consistent…
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this week’s editor’s column, a huge congratulations must go to Banyana Banyana for qualifying for the 2016 Olympics. This is an awesome achievement! As Vuyani Joni suggested in last week’s editor’s column, this truly may be the best state South African soccer has ever been in. Or is it?
After watching Amajimbos competing in their first U17 World Cup, I was struck by the similarities between these youngsters and the senior men’s national team. Our performance against Costa Rica, where we ultimately lost 2-1, was characterised by patches of excellent play, punctuated by periods of nail-biting disarray in defence and disorganisation going forward. A further similarity was the difficulty the team had finding the back of the net at the end of one of these moments of excellence which, had they done so, could have completely changed the complexion of the game. Another similarity was that these youngsters, despite having put up a spirited performance, seemed overawed by the occasion, once again backing up the notion that South African teams are notorious chokers when it comes to the big occasion – and I’m not only talking about soccer here, as this is a something which has plagued many of our sporting codes.
To see Bafana Bafana’s failings playing themselves out in one of our junior national teams was most worrying as this suggests that in a decade’s time it is likely very little may have changed with our senior men’s national team. So the question must be: What are the lessons that need to be learned to forge a new path in South African soccer?
This brings me to Bafana’s encounter against Angola (who are ranked 97th in the world and 26th in Africa) on Saturday. Perhaps the main reason for the loss was that the build-up to the match was not ideal (in fact the planning behind Bafana’s recent cluster of games could be described as laughable, at best), with a pair of friendlies scheduled only days before this clash with Angola. I believe the first thing we can learn is that there is little sense in performing well in two friendlies (even if this helps to elevate our FIFA ranking) and then poorly in the qualifying for a continental tournament. That feels like taking two steps forward and three back.
Surely this is something that SAFA must have factored into their planning! Surely travelling to Central America to play two challenging matches, just before a testing match at home against an unpredictable neighbouring country, is an unadvisable move. It seems as though SAFA expects Bafana to perform regardless of the obstacles placed before them – that, or this game against Angola was not one which was approached with any degree of real seriousness.
But regardless of SAFA’s oversights, a loss in this competition should be troubling to everyone involved in the PSL! Surely a league that boasts that it is one of the best on the continent should be able to muster a team able to see off most other continental opponents. Yet we fall against Angola… Angola! With all due respect to Angola, who I feel played extremely well, I challenge you to name one Angolan Premiership side and I am willing to bet you won’t be able to name a single one. The PSL, on the other hand, has brands which are recognisable worldwide. Therefore, perhaps it is the marketing of our league which is top-class, rather than the level of the soccer being played. This brings us to the third thing we definitely should have learned this weekend – until the results match our claims to have the strongest league on the continent, this is probably something we should keep very quiet about.
It is almost certain that an objection to this column will be that the Bafana that was fielded against Angola was a fourth-string team and not actually our national team, but my counter argument to that would be that every one of those players who walked out onto the field received a Bafana cap and the game was recognised as a legitimate international. If this was not in fact Bafana, then perhaps we should make clearer distinctions between the teams we are sending out to do the job for us, or at very least prepare those representing the country a little better so that they are not cannon-fodder when the step on to the international stage.
This brings us to the final thing we have might have learned, which is that prolonged inconsistency will result in the fan’s losing belief in you. It’s all about consistency, and that perhaps is the thing that Bafana lacks most. It’s not that the performances are always bad, but rather that they are so up and down that those who support the team can’t help but feel a little queasy.
It’s funny how much can change in a week, and it seems that there is still a massive amount of work needed – both in the present and the future – in order to ensure that we fulfil our dreams of becoming a world-class soccer nation. And, although it is difficult to pin-point exactly the other lessons we need to learn to more our soccer forward, what we should definitely be aiming for in South African soccer is consistency, as Fran Hilton-Smith so correctly says in this week’s revolving column. Because, as they say, form is temporary but class is consistent…