Thank you, Shakes, for giving us back our pride

2014-11-23 15:00

Who was the last South African coach to guide Bafana to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals? Shakes Mashaba in 2003. Who is the latest coach to qualify Bafana for the Afcon finals? Shakes Mashaba.

That Mashaba will be at Afcon next year is a long-overdue reward for a coach who didn’t get to reap the fruits of his labour in 2004.

To his detractors, those who called him the “cheap option”, the fact that he qualified Bafana for the tournament is priceless.

I shudder to think what would have happened had he been left in the job to guide the team in Tunisia in 2004.

It is well documented that Mashaba never reached the promised land. Instead, he left his job quietly after disagreements with the SA Football Association.

Now that he’s raised their expectations, fickle South Africans shouldn’t be blamed if they demand more next year.

This is when Mashaba must prove he can take the team further than his predecessors since 2004, when the late Styles Phumo replaced him as caretaker coach in Tunisia. Bafana were knocked out in the first round. That marked the beginning of their decline.

Ironically, the same can be said about Stuart Baxter, who qualified Bafana for the 2006 showdown in Egypt but did not stay long enough to get there. Ted Dumitru and Pitso Mosimane guided the team on that disastrous sojourn. They came back without a point, not even a single goal.

In fact, the trend started way back in 2002 when Carlos Queiroz suffered the same fate as Mashaba and Baxter. The Mozambican did not see the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan after qualifying. Jomo Sono took us to the tournament and came back after?...?you guessed right?...?the first round.

After searching high and low for the best man for the job, we didn’t realise the man we were looking for was right under our noses.

This is the man the country has been waiting for. Pity it took our football authorities so long to realise that. But rather late than never. More than a decade on, the man has an unblemished record.

In six qualifying matches, Bafana finished as group winners without losing a match.

The last time Bafana qualified for the finals was back in 2007. They were guided by former World Cup-winning coach Carlos Parreira for the 2008 spectacle in Ghana. Again, they were eliminated in the first round.

Parreira’s countryman, Joel Santana, failed to qualify for the 2010 edition in Angola. Mosimane, too, did not get to the Equatorial Guinea and Gabon finals in 2012. Then Gordon Igesund led the team in last year’s tournament, which they qualified for only by virtue of their being the hosts.

Back came Mashaba and he shook things up, despite his “cheap” label. He did not waste time addressing the situation.

“All the expensive coaches – give me their records. Our football is down because of those men,” he said at his unveiling as Igesund’s successor.

And right he was. In a very short period, he has delivered what his predecessors failed to.

A shake-up was what Bafana needed and that’s what Shakes did. He showed balls of steel, too. He almost dismantled the team and showed faith in an untested crew of youngsters. What happened thereafter is history – Bafana are now on their way to Equatorial Guinea in January.

From Madiba Magic to Mashaba Magic, this is what the country needed: someone to unite the nation and bring pride to the national team. Mashaba has done just that and he’s given us a chance to celebrate.

Hopefully, this is only the beginning. We must enjoy the team’s success while it lasts.

It feels good to be a South African again, thanks to Mashaba and his technical team.

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