Feature: Bafana's road to 2018 World Cup
Posted: 6 February 2013 Time: 11:05
Safa president Kirsten Nematandani’s revelation earlier this week that Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund is set for a new long-term contract was both unexpected and encouraging.
The surprise is that football’s governing body saw fit to start discussing a new deal for Igesund despite his failure to achieve his Africa Cup of Nations mandate – to reach the semi-finals.
As encouraging as this is, it is also nothing short of shocking. It is very unlike Safa to look beyond the next tournament, so murmurs about a contract up until the 2018 World Cup in Russia must be taken with a pinch of salt. Sort of an ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ vibe …
But if this is indeed the case, I will reserve some rare praise for Nematandani and his cronies. They hardly ever fail to disappoint me, so here is an opportunity to put their considerable sums of cash where their mouth is and back the coach long term.
This will be a good time to point out that I have no sense of loyalty to Igesund. He is a nice enough guy and usually very courteous, and his record in the PSL is second to none. He IS the country’s most successful coach.
But I would have given this long-term backing to whoever was in charge, be it Gavin Hunt, Steve Komphela … hell, even Jomo Sono.
I just think it’s time we invest properly and create a ‘Bafana identity’ again. Safa messed up the chance to build on our 1996 Nations Cup success and the result was years and years of chopping and changing, different coaches bringing different styles, and trying a multitude of different players.
When Igesund got the job, I suggested that instead of his tough Nations Cup mandate and ridiculous 2014 World Cup one, they charge him with building a team for the 2018 World Cup.
Let’s be honest … telling Igesund he must qualify us for the 2014 World Cup is grossly unfair. His predecessor’s failings means he immediately starts the qualifiers on the back foot, with Bafana having already dropped four points in just two matches.
So as much as I would love to see our boys fly the flag in Brazil next year, I am also a realist.
My suggestion, understandably a controversial one, is to use all Bafana matches in the next two years to start creating a team which will reach its peak in 2018.
Dispense immediately with the likes of Siphiwe Tshabalala, Katlego Mphela, Lerato Chabangu, Kagisho Dikgacoi and Reneilwe Letsholonyane. They have served their country well, but will be too old by the time the Russian World Cup comes around.
Even Siyabonga Sangweni, as well as he did at the Nations Cup, will be 36 by then – too old to be a part of the plan.
Install Itumeleng Khune as captain for the next few years and expose our best young players to international football as often as you can. From the current Nations Cup squad I would retain guys like Tokelo Rantie, May Mahlangu, Tsepo Masilela, Oupa Manyisa, Dean Furman, Anele Ngcongca and Thulani Serero.
Then have another look at guys like Tefu Mashamaite and Punch Masenamela, who was injured for this Nations Cup, and start nurturing the talents such as Ronwen Williams, Daylon Claasen, Dino Ndlovu, Ayanda Patosi, Mulomowandau Mathoho, Darren Keet, George Lebese, Sifiso Myeni, Siyanda Xulu and Kermit Erasmus, and get someone like Andile Jali’s head right and make him understand that he is the future of this Bafana team – if he can concentrate solely on his football and leave off-the-field nonsense behind.
Of course this is a lot easier said than done. Players will get injured and lose form, but if we can identify a pool of top young talent and get them to buy into this plan, we will have enough time to develop a group of players that will be capable of stepping up.
I also understand that not all supporters will back such an idea. Many of them demand immediate results and when those are not forthcoming the pressure gets heaped onto the players and coach, and soon enough Safa get forced into making decisions to appease unhappy fans.
But let’s be realistic here. Despite the feel-good factor after Bafana’s quarter-final showing at the Nations Cup, the harsh fact is that we only managed one win in four matches during the tournament – and that on home soil.
Sure, we didn’t lose a match, conceded just three goals and showed great fighting spirit throughout, but Bafana are a million miles from being world beaters. That takes many years of planning, heartache and sacrifice – just ask the France side of the turn of the century.
After the highs of winning the 1984 European Championships under Michel Platini, the team failed to qualify for both the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, and suffered elimination – as defending champions – in the group stages at Euro ’88. But they took stock, rebuilt, won the World Cup in 1998 and dominated world football for years thereafter.
It will take a long time to transform Bafana from supposed ‘sleeping giants’ into a team capable of challenging the world’s best, but then again we have five years before the planet’s top teams descend on Russia.
We have the infrastructure, facilities and enough promising young talent to ensure we are counted among the best come 2018.
Some ‘clever’ commenters will, of course, ask whether this ‘COWditor is high’. Well yes, I am. About 30,000 feet high, in fact. I’m typing this on a plane en route to Durban for the Nations Cup semi-final. I hope, in five years’ time, to type another feature like this on my way to Moscow, entitled ‘I told you so’.