First it was Teko Modise who was jettisoned as Gordon Igesund hit the eject button. Here was a player who not so long ago was the ‘Golden Boy’ of South African football. A player who Pitso Mosimane refused to give up on during his tenure as national team coach. We all know that Teko on his day is a match winner. That Teko on his day is impossible to stop.
But if we’re honest, it got to a stage where Teko had had his day and needed to be let go to allow him to work on his game. Teko himself in a recent interview with Soccer-Laduma said that it’s time for new faces, for the next generation of Bafana stars. Personally, I still think Teko has something special about him, and when he finds his groove again, he is a player that should be in the national team. But someone had to let him go and Gordon found a way to do that and get away with it. And he got away with it by giving May Mahlangu a chance to shine at the Afcon. If that gamble hadn’t paid off, Gordon wouldn’t be able to sit in front of the South African media today and continue to drop big name players and leave out big club icons.
In his latest selection, the ‘Gordon Guillotine’ dropped again, with more big name players lopped off his list.
Although Soccer-Laduma hinted at it some time back, most South Africans were shocked that not only was Bongani Khumalo stripped of his captaincy, he was axed from the Bafana squad completely. Even when Siyabonga Sangweni pulled out, it was Erick Mathoho who got drafted in rather than the former captain.
How did Gordon do it? Quite simply by sticking to his guns on team selection. He said at the very beginning that players, no matter who they were, had to be playing for their clubs regularly. That they had to be in good form, and that they needed to be right for the game plan.
By his high standards, Bongani Khumalo at the recent Afcon was a shadow of the player that left for foreign soil two years ago. His performances at the Afcon didn’t inspire his troops and didn’t inspire a country. While he looked and sounded the part off the pitch and in front of the cameras answering questions about the team, on the field he was found wanting. Clearly his club feel the same way. A vital World Cup qualifier isn’t the right game to allow even a talent like Khumalo to play himself back into form. Gordon knows this, more than likely if you ask Bongani, he will admit that he knows this but, most importantly, the South African public know and accept this, and that’s why Gordon has got away with dropping a Bafana captain.
Besides Steven Pienaar who has retired from national team duty, Thulani Serero is currently our only legitimate claim to a player playing in a top European league. Ajax Amsterdam is a club that produces world stars year after year and exports them to the top teams in Europe. Ajax are consistently in the top three teams in their league and more often than not are in the Champions League. And yet Serero, who is now fitter and stronger than he was when he was included in the Afcon squad, has been deemed not ready for Bafana.
How is this possible? Is Gordon getting this wrong? Well, Gordon has indicated that he needs soldiers on the field, players who are willing to run through walls for him. Players who will not pull out of a tackle for fear of an injury that will hurt their club careers. I can tell you that the feeling regarding Serero right now is that when he plays for Bafana, he holds back. That he plays as if his club tell him to take it easy and not jeopardise his health for the Bafana cause. They obviously rate him very highly as they have just extended his contract at Ajax Amsterdam and it makes sense that they don’t want to lose out on their substantial investment. But, when you consider that Gordon needs players willing to go to battle for him, Serero right now does not fit the bill. Any other coach who left out Thulani Serero, ‘Bafana’s Messi’, would not get away with it. Gordon has, and once again, it’s the right choice under the circumstances.
The one player’s exclusion that Gordon is having a hard time explaining to the country is that of Andile Jali. Even some of the Kaizer Chiefs fans have been asking Soccer-Laduma for answers as to why this player is being overlooked. Now a case can be made for Jali in either the holding role or the creative role, and possibly therein lies the rub. It’s a case of, ‘Jack of all midfield trades, but master of none’.
As holding midfielders, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Dean Furman and Reneilwe Letsholonyane are quite one-dimensional, but they do the cleaning up job in front of the back four very well. Yes, Yeye can be creative, but his focus is usually protecting his defenders and passing it to the playmaker. I would argue that Andile Jali is better technically than all these holding midfielders, but I’m not sure at this stage that he is a better battler. Or at least Gordon hasn’t seen that in him as yet.
As an attacking creative force, Jali’s engine is just as good as Daylon Claasen’s for sure, but at this stage, although he once was, he is no longer as busy as May Mahlangu is in that playmaker role. His playmaking ability, while good, is also not better than Mahlangu’s and the fact that Claasen is doing it in a European league probably gives him the edge as well in this department. And for that reason, Gordon can confidently say that at this stage Jali isn’t in his plans and get away with it.
That is of course if he wins. If he loses, expect 50 million South African ‘coaches’ to boldly tell him, ‘Gordon, you got it wrong!’
Shapa, Clint - @SoccaClint