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OPINION: SAFA is spot on but…

Posted: 12 November 2014 Time: 11:42

When I heard that SAFA has barred May Mahlangu from being considered for any future Bafana Bafana call-ups, I couldn’t help myself but rejoice, writes Zola Doda.

It’s about time SAFA take a firm stance and ban these tjatjarag prima donnas who think Bafana Bafana is a joke and they can pick and choose which match they want to play. And if SAFA didn’t act as swiftly as they did I would have been the first one to jump up and ask questions. And I’m glad they bloody did.

When we were re-admitted to international football in 1992 we had a club versus country issue to deal with and it became a nightmare as players were forced to choose between club or country. As much as I wanted players to play in every Bafana Bafana match I also felt sorry for them for being in a position of having to choose between a country and their pay masters.

You must remember that back then there was no synchronised international calendar like today; South America had their own international programme and this was the same with other continental federations like Asia, Europe and Africa. International football fixtures were a big mess. Players made sacrifices; those who chose their countries were hailed as patriots but their club careers suffered as they were victimised. Those who chose to play for their clubs were labelled unpatriotic; the whole saga was just a mess.

I remember vividly as well, in January 1997 Mark Fish, who just moved to Lazio in Italy, was called up for the 1998 World Cup qualifying match against Zambia. Bafana and Zambia were going to play on Saturday, 11 January while Lazio had a match the following day. Fish flew all the way from Italy and when he landed in Mzansi, SAFA officials informed him that his call-up was a mistake as he was suspended for the Zambia match. Fish flew back to Italy and fortunately arrived on time ahead of Lazio’s match where he played and scored his first goal in Serie A.

But as Europe was the place where our star players were earning a living, European clubs always had a dirty hand in forcing players to choose whether to play for club or country. And no matter which side the player chose, football was always the loser.

To use a contrasting example to Fish, in February 2001, Benni McCarthy pulled out of the World Cup qualifying match against Malawi as his team Celta Vigo was preparing for a crucial UEFA Cup match against Stuttgart. SAFA then wrote a letter to FIFA and McCarthy was stopped from playing for his club. At the time I was upset by McCarthy’s decision to choose his club over country but I felt sorry for him because why did he find himself in a position where he had to choose in the first place?

But finally, the powers that be at FIFA House in Switzerland finally came to their senses and drafted a synchronised international calendar which would ensure that all the international federations play matches in the same week, hence we have what we call today ‘international weeks’. The synchronised international calendar brought an end (to a certain extent) to the club versus country saga.

Now it seems as if we have another problem coming up, and that problem is called ‘dealing with prima donnas’.

READ: SAFA ban May Mahlangu

It seems as if players nowadays want to choose which match to play and this flies in the face of those who made sacrifices for this national team. In May Mahlangu’s case, it was out of order for him to tell national team coach Shakes Mashaba that he is tired and therefore cannot play. For argument's sake, if he or any Bafana Bafana player is injured, they know the rules. Report to your national team and let the national team doctors assess you and then tell the nation whether you are fit or not. You can’t tell the coach that you are tired and need rest or that you are injured. That is out of order. Let the national team doctors asses you; that is a FIFA rule, not an opinion. And this is what he should have done in case he had a niggling injury. And based on this SAFA were right to ban Mahlangu. I’m 100 percent on SAFA's side in this matter.

READ: Shakes slams 'tired' Mahlangu

But, SAFA must now know that from now on, going forward this is how they must treat every player in the national team. Whether you are Thulani Serero, Anele Ngcongca, Andile Jali or Oupa Manyisa – the same rules should apply to everyone. We can’t afford to have a case of “some animals are more equal than others”. The ban on Mahlangu should set precedent that must be followed regardless of the name of the player or which club he plays for.

And SAFA must still deal with the players who pulled out of the tour to Australia and New Zealand, we didn’t forget about that. The last time I checked an investigation was going on. I’m sure the nation is waiting for the conclusion on that.

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Follow me on Twitter: @ZolaDoda

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