A sad case of déjà vu

2014-01-04 00:00

THE Kaizer Chiefs and Bidvest Wits versus Bafana Bafana saga is yet another glaring example of how far South African football has to go before it can be taken seriously.

It is common knowledge that clubs and countries don’t get on, and that will never change. During Fifa International windows, clubs will manufacture niggles to their players to prevent them from making the trip to their homelands where they are expected to perform on the international stage. This infuriates national managers, and understandably so. A player who has earned the right to play for his country should always do so. Country before club, and all that. But it becomes difficult when, for example, an African player playing in a top European league is expected to travel all the way home for a hard-to-justify friendly against poor opposition on a pitch resembling a construction site. In these situations, the club manager’s concerns are also understandable.

Unfortunately, Chiefs and Wits making their Bafana players unavailable for the group stages (in Chiefs’ case) of this month’s African Nations Championship (Chan) in South Africa fits into neither of these categories.

Instead, it breathes an absolute lack of communication between Safa and the clubs.

A meeting was held on December 23, involving Safa and the PSL, and it was there that Danny Jordaan and the PSL reached a supposed agreement that all clubs would release players except for those involved in PSL fixtures against Pirates over the Chan period. Chiefs chairperson Kaizer Motaung was part of that meeting and gave his own assurances. On the same day, Chiefs’ football manager Bobby Motaung, apparently acting in a renegade fashion, told the press Amakhosi were not going to release players.

Due to Chan not falling in an official Fifa International window, the PSL clubs are not obliged to make their players available for the tournament. That is all very well, but if Amakhosi and Wits were always taking the stance that their players were unavailable, then why were they included in the squad in the first place? At some stage, it seems, Bafana coach Gordon Igesund was under the impression that the likes of Siphiwe Tshabalala, Itumeleng Khune, Bernard Parker, Tefo Mashamaite and Tsepo Masilela were available.

That was until this week when a Tweet released by Kaizer Chiefs informed South Africa that, in fact, these players would only meet up with the rest of the squad following their PSL clash against Mamelodi Sundowns on January 23 — in time for the knock-out stages should Bafana qualify. And coach Igesund must not take Twitter very seriously, because even after his Chiefs charges failed to show up for camp in Johannesburg on Thursday, he remained adamant that they would be part of his squad to leave for Cape Town last night and that he would not replace them.

I spoke to Wits CEO Jose Ferreira yesterday, who said that the decision was taken last weekend to withdraw the Wits players from the squad. Ferreira then added that negotiations with Safa were ongoing and that the possibility to reverse his decision still existed. But this was just four-and-a-half hours before the squad were due to leave Johannesburg to set up camp in Cape Town.

As this column was being written, it was still not clear whether or not the Chiefs and Wits boys would be on the plane to Cape Town, but indications were that they wouldn’t. And even if they did buckle under the pressure and have a late change of heart, Bafana’s preparations for the tournament have already been severely damaged.

Such confusion should not exist. It is unhealthy, unprofessional yet — and this is the sad bit — unsurprising.

The war between Igesund and Chiefs dates back to July’s Cosafa Cup in Zambia. Back then, Igesund also selected five Chiefs players before being told by Bobby Motaung that they would not be available to make the trip. Motaung’s argument was that such a tournament should be used to identify young talent, and that his stars needed a rest from their hectic PSL schedules. The same could be said about Chan — that it is a tournament that Igesund should use to unearth young players who have not been given a chance on the international stage. But is that not Igesund’s decision to make?

Chiefs are not the only sides in PSL action over Chan, and Wits are only in action again on February 4. AmaZulu, SuperSport United, Ajax Cape Town (Pirates’ PSL opponents over the Chan period) and Orlando Pirates players were all excused from Bafana duty as Pirates look to play catch-up in the league.

Sundowns have acted honourably by not standing in Bafana’s way over the selection of five of their players despite their fixture against Chiefs.

It’s all a bit of a mess, and the only known truth is that with just a week to go until the tournament kicks off in Cape Town, we still don’t know who will be representing Bafana.

Are the clubs being downright difficult and troublesome? Is communication the sole reason for all of this? Or is Igesund being unreasonable in expecting his players to sacrifice valuable PSL points for Bafana?

Whatever the decision on Chiefs and Wits turns out to be, it needed to be one made responsibly amongst the wise heads of Safa, the PSL and the clubs a long time ago and outside of the public eye. That clearly hasn’t happened, and after all this time, dealing with a difficult situation in a professional manner still appears to be too much to expect from our football administrators.

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