Gordon Igesund has told his players ‘don’t be scared’ – but it starts with the coach: I urge him to select a team and set it out without any fear of criticism or failure.
That was not Igesund’s team we saw lining up against Cape Verde on the opening day of Afcon 2013. It is not Igesund’s style to bench his best player, nor is it his style to drop a tried and tested performer for a crucial match.
I respect the logic behind picking a successful club strike-combination (Bernard Parker and Lehlohonolo Majoro) in favour of a known goal-poacher who is short of match fitness (Katlego Mphela).
What I’m struggling with is the omission of South Africa’s best player, Thulani Serero. And I’m mystified by the decision to bench Dean Furman, around whom Igesund was building his midfield.
This smacked of last-minute tinkering, and it smelled of fear, the fear of criticism, the fear of failure. And that is why I say it as not Gordon’s team, because he does not normally fear criticism, nor failure – he has proved over 20 years that he knows what he is doing.
As I watched our astoundingly pathetic performance in the first half against Cape Verde, when the midfield had no rhythm, no system, and no ability to string three decent passes together, I was left wondering if it is the same with all Bafana Bafana coaches; are they all struck by a curse – the curse of the draw. Do they all fear defeat so much that a draw is the ‘new win’?
I don’t read Igesund that way. But I was dismayed by his decision to bench Serero. Apparently Serero was not up to the required level of match-fitness yet, and the coach feared his star man would not match the tempo of the rest of the team’s play.
Yet there was absolutely no tempo to Bafana’s play! No rhythm, no pattern, no plan. Cape Verde – a team of expats representing a tiny island nation played with more cohesion, pattern and purpose. If they had an incisive finisher, they would have won the match.
Serero, in the second half, at least brought a semblance of intelligence and craft to the middle of the park.
The absence of Furman has not been explained – and we missed his simple, unfussy play; the way in which he keeps the game ticking over in the centre, keeps circulating the ball. Reneilwe Letsholonyane’s random bursts of forward activity were no substitute.
Starting without Serero, Furman and Mphela meant this: Igesund had a strong bench, and a weak starting XI.
Is that the way to victory? I suggest not.
Against Angola this afternoon, play for victory, coach; banish the fear factor. Take a half-time lead, and then think about the substitutions.
With all this in mind, I would like to see Bafana take to the field in a 4-2-3-1 system; the ‘3’ holding the key to getting the goal(s).
I would like to see Tokelo Rantie starting up front – he has ability on the ball, awareness, and can hold up play and bring other men into action in the penalty area.
The other men I refer to would be May Mahlangu on the left, Serero behind Rantie and Parker on the right. Parker on the right because I would want him to cut in and join Rantie in 18 area as much as possible; same for Mahalangu on the other side.
Forget playing with wide midfielders who must get down the line and cross. Crossing is not our strong point; nor is getting on the end of cross. Rather employ quick inter-passing to get numbers into the danger areas.
And the bench will be 'strong' – both Mphela and Majoro promising attacking options if a change is needed.
I accept that certain entrenched weaknesses do force Igesund’s hand, and that he needs to err on the side of caution in some areas.
And that is why I would see Letsholonyane doing the job alongside Furman. If this is not working, If 'Yeye' does not hold his position, the ‘forgotten’ Oupa Manyisa would come into play.
So I am advocating what most fans hate – the selection of two defensive midfielders. I suspect a major reason why Pitso Mosimane and the Brazilian coaches before him selected in this way was because they did not believe Bafana would score a goal. It was their security blanket. Fear.
I accept it is sensible and pragmatic to select two deep-lying midfielders now, not because of fear, but because our centre-back pairing is as jittery as any I can remember.
We miss Gould, but there is nothing we can do about that. So the back four remains as it is, for better or for worse.
Thank goodness for Itu Khune …
Good luck Gordon – you’re going to need it … in one afternoon, you have to rid Bafana of the fear of failure that has haunted them for years. This might be your greatest challenge yet: far greater than turning Manning Rangers and Santos into champions; much bigger than converting Swallows from relegation candidates to title contenders.
Get it right, and you may well go down in history as South Africa’s greatest ever coach.
KICK OFF editor Richard Maguire