New leaders required
The beautiful game of football has produced a plethora of interesting adages over the years, many of which can be used in life in general.
At least two of these readily come to mind with regard to the never-ending wobbles of Bafana Bafana, as well as aspects of the rugby and cricket set-ups in this wonderfully diverse but troubled land of ours where ongoing sport blunders may well be a microcosm of the nation’s shortcomings on several fronts.
In the eternal words of Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff, playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is. And somebody else once pronounced that football is an easy game before the opposition arrives on the pitch.
When we combine these two pearls of wisdom in looking at Bafana Bafana’s scandalously poor record on qualifying for major tournaments, we see that too often we talk a big game in this country but fall badly short on the field of play. Obviously we have a huge problem when it comes to producing simple efficiency on the park as Bafana Bafana have not featured in most of the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations finals where they had to go through a qualifying competition, since 2002.
Stuart Baxter (65) — the veteran English coach who has featured more than once in those failures, and who “led” his men to a drab 0-0 stalemate against Libya in Durban last weekend — has a long-running, if not tiresome, excuse that South African players need to change their psyche.
More aggression is needed in attack and defence, and this needs to be accompanied by a strong “bounce-back” stance when negative developments have occurred in a match, like going a goal down earlier than expected, Baxter has said a million times.
The coach says that it is impossible for him to “rewire” the players during the few days he gets with them before a match, despite his huge experience and enthusiasm.
And he was backed up in Durbs on Saturday by another man formerly from the British game, Bafana Bafana defensive midfielder Dean Furman, who was as certain as everybody else that there’s “certainly room for improvement”, and that fans will continue to arrive in small numbers for Bafana Bafana matches unless results improve drastically.
Their lame showing against a team from a country ripped apart by civil strife and in front of a crowd of fewer than 10 000 paying customers means Baxter and his men could miss out on playing in another big tournament should they again struggle against another “lightweight” side in the form of Seychelles in the next two Afcon-qualifying assignments, before they round off the six-match campaign against the more powerful Nigerian team.
Nigeria will be looking for revenge and to advance in the competition, after Baxter’s men managed to humble them in the opening match of round-robin play last year.
That South Africans have had to hear about their shortcomings from two men from European backgrounds in Baxter and Furman, suggests that the football of the “Rainbow Nation” is more interested in scoring beautiful goals than getting a win through a highly competitive, in-your-face approach.
Of course, effective decision-making on the park has been a problem for South African players for longer than Baxter and Furman have been around on the national scene.
These two men will never be able to fix that despite their good intentions, though, because it stands to reason that the much-needed change in mentality and playing approach has to start at the grass-roots level.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, as they say.
This, then, brings the SA Football Association (Safa) and Premier Soccer League (PSL) into the picture because they should be doing far more in the youth development arena.
Some of the leading administrators of these two organisations have been around for decades and, unfortunately for the so-called “people’s game”, can’t claim to have taken the country to an international standard of football, despite all the money that was available prior to the leaner times of recent years.
Perhaps a change of leadership is needed at both organisations in the near future to make room for others who are more in tune with the demands of the modern game — the development strategies, scientific advances and so on.
We clearly need new leaders; new visionaries who know a helluva lot more about the technical side of football — rugby and cricket also need this.
We need leaders who will do much more than organise fixtures, look for sponsorships and take fat commissions for work they should be doing anyway.
• Carl Peters is the sports editor of The Witness.