Historical data in the EPL shows that since April 2014 Manchester City FC is yet to lose a match with Yaya Touré on the pitch. Now that sounds crazy. But if you have ever watched him rallying the troops when they are 1-0 down, you will understand why Manchester City FC + Yaya Touré are a different team.
To be honest, not that many players have such a statistic behind their name. But there are quite a few names you can associate with that type of leadership. This is the kind of leadership that simply changes the look and demeanor of the team especially when the chips are down. You can think of the Orlando Pirates FC of Ruud Kroll was a different preposition with and Lucky Lekgwathi and Isaac Chansa on the pitch. The Proteas team of Russell Domingo is different preposition with AB De Villiers on the batting line-up. And when Liverpool FC is 1-0 down at Anfield and crowd are singing “You will never walk alone,” there is but one man you want to see in red – the sensational! The amazing! Stevie G.
It is not a coincidence that all these examples are all over the age of thirty. Because the kind of leadership I am referring to is not something you can pull off at the age of twenty-four. When thing go wrong in football as in life, the guiding words of someone who cuts an avuncular figure saying “don’t worry, don’t panic, we’ve got this” are priceless.
On Monday night, everything was going well when Bafana Bafana took the lead after Thuso Phala opening goal of the night. We played from the first whistle, did not start slow as we did in the preparation friendly matches. We carved the Algerian defense open at will. We basically out-played the no.1 ranked team on the continent in every department, even beating them for pace. It was only at that moment when Bafana Bafana would’ve been 2-0 up nine minutes into the second-half after Tokelo Rantie missed from the spot that the whole team switched off. That rattling of the crossbar by Rantie’s spot kick proved the turning point, with the South Africans losing their way as the Algerians grew in confidence and belief.
At that moment when we were getting stretched, South Africa needed someone who would be able to say to the boys – “don’t worry, don’t panic, we’ve got this.” Most unfortunately all the options Shakes Mashaba took to the tournament to fulfill that exact role were not available for him to use. Yeye Letsholonyane was ineligible to play after his red card against Nigeria in the qualifiers and Bernard Parker through injury. Though Bafana Bafana gave a brave account of themselves in the dying minutes of the game, in the last thirty minutes the team desperately needed someone older to do that for Shakes’ men.
With that said, on Friday when Bafana Bafana take on the Lions of Taranga in their second match of the tournament. It will be a do-or-die affair as they face a team ranked fourth on the continent, and have participated in 12 previous tournaments without a win any. The closest they have come to winning the tournament is in 2002, when they finished 2nd. However, in this tournament Senegal boosts a few big names like Sadio Mane, Demba Ba, Diafra Soko and Biram Diouf who have been setting Europe alight with their performances of late.
Bafana Bafana will also be seeing the return of Molomowandau Mathoho at center back to restore some structure in defense, and Yeye Letsholonyane will also start to settle the nerve in the midfield. One expects Parker’s vision and Phala’s darting runs to provide a lethal combination up front; while Sibusiso Vilakazi will also be able to assume his usual role of impact player in the second stanza. If we can get past the jittery nerves in the first 10 min, South Africa has a chance. In my mind, it will not just be the game plan and skills that mounts a formidable challenge. But the introduction of avuncular figures who are able to says “don’t worry, don’t panic, we’ve got this.”