I am very phlegmatic about many things, but I feel pressed to express concern about this trend I have seen growing over the last twenty years in our public discourse. Or should I say I am concerned with the quality of the discourse. Let me demonstrate what I am talking about.
Bafana Bafana gets knocked out of the COSAFA cup and now suddenly people start saying “if the coach cannot win COSAFA at home, then he has no hope.”
This is the same rhetoric that was voiced when we got knocked out of the AFCON and CHAN at home. But what people do not realize is that since 1980 when Nigeria won the AFCON in Nigeria, the only Sub-Saharan country to win the AFCON while hosting is us, in 1996. The others being Egypt (1986 and 2006), Tunisia in 2004 and Algeria in 1990 – who are all North African countries. Coincidentally apart from Egypt’s domination in 2006 – 2010, which was all done with one generation of players, North African countries don’t tend to do well in Sub-Sahara either. But any way, that’s a topic for another day!
Based on this I would say, if you want to win an African football tournament and you are from Sub-Sahara, then just don’t host any tournaments. To even approach the discussion as if playing at home represents some sort of advantage is laughable. Why this is even a talking point baffles me to no end.
But even with that, we still come down on the coach and the players, and everything else but addressing the real problems. My concern is not only that players and coaches are chastised unfairly. Because, let’s be honest, they are. But my issue is the extent to which the whole country goes to throw people under the moving bus of public opinion just so that we can circumnavigate the the issues. So we end up asking the wrong people the wrong questions.
Think about it, if we consider the logic that is at play now. We have all age group programs working and so we use the junior continental and world cups tournaments to transition players into the under 20’s. The All Africa Games to transition players into the Olympic games, and use the Olympic Games, CHAN and COSAFA to transition players into the Senior National teams. This is all well and good if everything is working. But when you go for three years and over with inactive programs in the junior teams, especially in the under 23’s then the whole plan falls flat. And the reality is this what Mashaba is working with right now.
What does not help is, if we do not qualify for Rio 2016 then we forget about all of that. Only to lay the blame at the feet of the players or the coaches, saying that they are not good enough. When in actual fact we all know that the requisite preparation did not take place in good time.
At the end of the day any national team coach, is nothing more than a General Manager of a division known as Bafana Bafana, or Amajimbos or Amajita. His job is to execute a plan for the fulfillment of an operational target to the best of his ability with the resources available to him. His job is not to define the strategy. That duty falls squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of our football association. Therefore the question that should have been asked over the last three years about the inactive Under 23 program, is whether or not All Africa Games, Rio 2016 and CHAN 2016 were strategic objectives for SAFA in the first place. That question should never be asked to a coach, for his is not to develop strategy and define KPI’s.
I mean, where in the world do you know of a national team coach hopping on planes to negotiate access to players from clubs. This has been happening with every national team coach, at every level for years, and for some reason we actually think that is normal.
Who of us goes to work with a bakkie filled with a chair, a table, a telephone, a computer and a printer just so we can do our jobs? If these are the tools we need to do our jobs; then is it not logical that the employer should provide them? If you expect the coach to be able to do a job, then you have to provide him with the resources to do it. The coach should be able to release a list of players, and the players should be available. But for years coaches keep complaining that clubs refuse to release players, and for some reason we actually think that is normal.
The idea that national coaches have to negotiate access to players is a diabolical. We had a 100% South African first eleven in a Champions League final, and then three weeks later we could not use them in a CHAN tournament. For some reason South Africa overlooked that and then proceeded to insult our own people calling them “a bunch of losers.”
I ask again, why is player availability even a discussion?
Even if we ask the coach if he’s got the players that he wanted? That does not help. Because the coach cannot say he does not have the best squad for selection, even though we all know its the truth. Simply because after saying that, how then does he go into the change-room to tell the players he selected from a diminished pool to be brave “because you are better than the other team.” In fact asking the coach to respond to such questions only serves to make his job 100 times more difficult. And for some reason we think this is normal.
This senseless blame of our coaches is an abomination, and it needs to stop. For it is destroying the work the very people who can save our national team are doing way before it the work finds its feet. Let them be, so they can do their jobs. And let the people charged with the responsibility to run our football entities be held to account. But most of all, let us stop asking the wrong questions to the wrong people – it is not helping.
The tempest prognosticator
Themba A Dikgale