“Safa is dead, long live Safa...” The original saying dating back to the fourteen hundreds is actually, “The king is dead, long live the king!” It’s a phrase that was used to announce the death of a monarch and recognise the succession of a new king, and to emphasise that a monarchy or government is never without leadership, that a new leader is always waiting in the wings.
As we near the Safa elections and the imminent accession of a new ‘King’ to the Safa throne, I argue that on the face of it, Safa is ‘dead’ and needs new life breathed into it. I’m not sure exactly when the rot set in, but I’m pretty sure it runs congruently with our descent from a nation once ranked 16th in the world to our current position of 68th on the Fifa totem pole.
Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, it seems that the more money that has come into the Safa coffers over the years, the worse our team has done. We have failed to qualify for any major event as a country for years now. Unless we host it, we don’t get to go to any of the big shows. We can show a lot of flash for the cash, but nothing points to any sign that we are improving as a footballing nation.
We have missed out on another World Cup! Just four years after hosting the event and having built world-class stadiums and training facilities and landing a massive windfall of money, we are not good enough to go to Brazil.
Yes, we look the same as any major footballing association from the outside looking in. Our Safa officials wear smart suits and work in plush association offices where there is a car park full of fancy cars. We fly first class when we travel and stay in luxury hotels and when we hold press conferences, we look the business. There is a major technical sponsor, a huge main sponsor… money, money, money! Our national coach’s salary and the salaries of those on the technical team are up there with some of the biggest national teams in the most established associations in the world, but that is where it ends.
Throwing money at Safa’s problems is clearly not the way to go. More money has been thrown at Safa than one can even begin to calculate, and what has been achieved? If Safa were a boxer, we would be the ‘Money Team’, but unlike Floyd Mayweather, we certainly don’t have the titles or the air of invincibility. We may think of ourselves as ‘heavyweights’ on the continent because we run a good professional league, but the truth is we look like washed-up, punch-drunk, overweight has-beens, with more bark than bite. Nobody takes us very seriously anymore.
But a new president gives us a chance at change. No matter who gets the crown, there is an opportunity for progress. There is never a better time to put in place a short-term plan to get South Africa to the 2018 World Cup. And then a long-term vision to make South Africa a top five force on the African continent and to try and crack the top 20 in the world again.
It won’t be easy. The youth setup in this country needs a complete rethink and the youth coaches in this country need to be better valued. We have about 20 senior coaches who get peddled around the PSL clubs for millions and millions, and each time they fail, they get the boot and simply get rehired somewhere else.
But what of the youth coaches? What about the guys tasked with coaching the players that are essentially our future? It’s time to stop giving ex-pros who are under-qualified charge of our youth, pay them peanuts and call that development. It’s time to empower ex-pros who have a passion for coaching! Send them on courses and allow them to make a real difference. Let’s get on top of age-cheating at our clubs, academies and schools, so that the best youngsters actually do get picked to be nurtured and groomed for greatness.
I have no favourite for Safa president. Whoever gets the job will get Soccer-Laduma’s support to help make soccer in our country healthy again. All we ask is that whoever is elected as the new ‘King’ treats the game in this country and all its followers like royalty, instead of expecting to be paid homage. I think that’s how we got into this mess in the first place.
Safa is dead, long live Safa!
Follow Clint on Twitter: @SoccaClint