Bafana: Mostly scoring goals between bed posts

2014-01-26 10:00

A few months before the 1998 Fifa World Cup, then Bafana Bafana coach Philippe Troussier paid a meet-and-greet visit to the newspaper I was working for at the time.

Later, over lunch with the editorial executives, he was quizzed about the team’s prospects at its inaugural World Cup, the quality of South African football and his observations about the state of the beautiful game here. Ever the frank and forthright speaker, Troussier did not hold back.

In his heavily accented English, the Frenchman spoke excitedly about the commitment of footballers in west Africa, where he had spent years coaching. He contrasted the passion and drive of players there with the lackadaisical approach of their South African counterparts.

Having coached Kaizer Chiefs during a previous spell in this country, he was disparaging about the mentality of South African soccer players and their prioritisation of bling and stardom over the improvement of their performance.

He told of how west Africans would arrive at training exhausted after bus and taxi rides to the club grounds but would still give 200% of their physical and mental energy to the task at hand.

So committed to winning were they, he commented, that they cried rivers of tears when they lost a derby or a Cup final. This passion was missing in South Africa, where players would be seen cracking jokes and going partying after losing big games.

“Ze only time I ever see ze South African player cry is one day when ze thieves break into Doctor Khumalo’s car and stole his R16?000 speakers,” he said wryly.

That was in 1998, a time when big name players earned a fraction of the salaries paid by Premier Soccer League clubs today. Ironically, the higher the salaries went, the poorer the standard of the football on the field became.

South Africa?boasts of having one of the richest leagues and the best TV production standards in the world, but has done little to motivate players to raise their standard of play.

Compare the number of goals scored on any given weekend with some of the leagues we have the privilege of watching on TV. Compare the number of footballers from poorer African nations plying their trade at big European clubs with those from the continent’s economic powerhouse.

And then also look at how our Fifa ranking compares with ramshackle countries that hardly deserve to be called nations. After doing these comparisons, get a box of tissues and weep.

The parlous state of our football is not a result of a lack of talent or resources. This country is as spoilt with footballing talent as the Venezuelan fashion industry is spoilt for beauty.

(If this comparison doesn’t make sense to you, do a Google search for “Venezuelan models”.)

Resources are also in abundance. We have some of the most high-tech sports centres in the world and our tertiary institutions churn out top-notch experts in areas such as nutrition, physical fitness and other disciplines required for producing superior athletes. We have magnificent coaches who have acquired high-level grades.

Much blame for the poor state of football has been attributed to poor leadership. This is only partly true as many of the countries that dominate African and global football also have chaotic administrations. Nigeria and Brazil are prime examples of this.

The greatest cause of our crisis in football and one that we have to confront head-on is the mentality of our players.

They are just not hungry enough for glory. Most of them get drunk on stardom and relish being recognised at shopping centres and scoring in bed much more than scoring on the football pitch.

Wrapping your arms around the waist of a Minnie Dlamini or a Kelly Khumalo is a greater prize than hanging a winner’s medal around your neck. This is the attitude that needs to be tackled if we are to move out of this state of mediocrity.

So hats off to Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula for wielding his hostel-dweller sjambok and lashing the Bafana players this week. It was about time.

» Makhanya is editor at large

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