I’m not sure whether to be embarrassed, outraged, cheated or unperturbed about the fact that Bafana, barring a miracle, are not going to the next World Cup.
Embarrassed, because as one of the leading countries on the African continent, as the hosts of the last World Cup, as supposedly one of the top 10 richest leagues in world football when it comes to advertising money, we aren’t even good enough to finish top of a group where two of the teams in our group are currently outside the top 100. And in 2010, while we were hosting a World Cup, Central African Republic were outside the top 200!
Outraged because so much money has been given to Safa to get our football right and yet we are still so far off the pace. Outraged because we call ourselves a soccer nation, but our two smaller sports - cricket and rugby - are better run, more organised and more successful than the sport that has the power to lift a nation. Outraged because there seems to be more concern about the upcoming elections within the house of cards that is Safa than there has ever been about qualifying for the World Cup!
Cheated because of the treatment dished out to our national side while travelling on the continent, and with the latest news that Ethiopia may have fielded an ineligible player and will more than likely get away with it at our expense. Cheated because Safa make us all feel like things are a lot better than they actually are, cheated because as South Africans we have no part to play any longer in what will be a spectacular World Cup in Brazil.
Unperturbed because, on the face of it, Bafana and Safa have given us exactly what we have come to expect - mediocrity. An underperforming team with an inability to qualify for major tournaments… nothing much changes. So we’ve missed out on another tournament, who cares, right? As long as Safa keep getting big sponsorship money coming in. As long as Safa House is clean and shiny, as long as the parking lot at Safa House is full of Mercedes Benz vehicles, then South African soccer must be a winner, right?
Is it all doom and gloom? Well, on the up side, this Bafana team seems to have come together under Gordon Igesund. When last could a Bafana team go away from home and beat any country 3-0, like we did against Central African Republic? Even though we lost against Ethiopia on the weekend, there were parts of that game where we looked the real deal. Where tackles were flying in, where possession was kept, where chances were created. This Bafana team was a team I feel could hold its own against any team in the world, which is why it is so disappointing that our World Cup journey ends here.
So what now? Where do we go from here? For me, the only logical thing is to start now with our qualifying campaign for the World Cup in 2018. It’s time to be ruthless and look at the players in this team and cut those players that will be past it by the time we get to 2018. Let’s get a group of players and let them grow together for the next five years! Let’s take our most talented 18 to 26-year-olds and turn them into a force to be reckoned with. The talent is there. The time is there. All it requires is the vision and the determination to realise that goal.
With the elections for new positions at Safa around the corner, now is the time for us to facilitate a renaissance in South African soccer. In 2008, Ethiopia, feeling the shame of the poor performances of their national team, basically overthrew the Ethiopian Football Association leadership and forced people to step down from their roles in the name of an Ethiopian football renaissance.
As always, Fifa stepped in and Ethiopia was banned from qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. But just a few years down the line and look at what that coup has achieved. What do we have to lose for demanding a complete overhaul of the supposed custodians of South African soccer? It can’t get any worse. We’re already out of the 2014 World Cup.
My challenge to Safa is to show us a road map to our football renaissance. Show us how you plan to get us to the next World Cup and get us to the next African Cup of Nations. Show us how we win the respect of this continent and bring our achievements in line with our vast football resources and talent, and then we will allow you to stay in charge. If you can’t, then get out! Step aside and let more capable, more passionate and more qualified people step in and take control of this sinking ship.
Our duty to South African soccer as Soccer-Laduma will be to put a magnifying glass on Safa and document each step you take to get us to where we deserve to be. Take a wrong step, and from now on, the world will know.
Written by: Clint Roper