Bafana need a miracle

2009-02-20 00:00

IF Bafana Bafana do pull off what needs to be a minor miracle and put up a respectable performance at the 2010 World Cup, then it will be despite the South African Football Association, not thanks to it.

South Africa’s 2-0 friendly international defeat against Chile had some worrying signs in it. The Bafana players’ clear lack of an answer to the pace of the Chilean players, and their tendency to panic in the suffocating confines allowed them by an opposition clearly proficient at closing down the spaces, showed how far the national team still have to go.

South Africa have clearly not recovered yet from the shock of Carlos Alberto Parreira’s departure in April last year. The uncertainty over whether Bafana will be ready in time for the Confederations Cup in four months, or the World Cup in 16, must be a profound cause of consternation in the halls of Fifa’s headquarters at 20 Fifa-Strasse in Zurich.

Whether as much concern has creased the foreheads of the administrators at Safa, who are entrusted with managing the resources directed at supporting the national squad —— junior teams, development, support teams, quality of opposition in friendlies — is open to question.

Safa administrators stand to gain so much financially from 2010 that one wonders how much they still really care about Bafana’s performance during the event. Of course the administration will come in for intense criticism should Bafana bomb. But often in the past the country’s administrators have shown that they are impressively thick-skinned in the face of criticism – past disasters have been conveniently swept under the carpet and coaches have taken the fall.

It’s no use now harping on about the lack of development structures, of a centralised talent production plan and of support for the country’s junior teams. With 474 days to go until the June 11, 2010, World Cup kick-off that boat has already been missed, and it’s too late to start producing talent now.

There is still so much to be done. National team coach Joel Santana said after the Chile defeat that he needs more such tough matches to whip his team into shape and for Bafana to grow used to the pace and intensity of top-level international football. He couldn’t have been more right. But there are four months to go until the Confederations Cup, where South Africa need a creditable performance to boost confidence and morale. Surely Safa should have had a full programme of competitive friendlies lined up from six months ago, instead of the matches against Portugal, Norway and, tentatively, Poland, to be played ahead of the Confed.

But it is not just Safa that is responsible for the near-desperate situation Bafana find themselves in. Safa’s professional arm – the Premier Soccer League – is known to be a far more efficiently run than the overseeing body. The league is rolling in newfound riches it could never have dreamed of five years ago and new CEO Kjetil Siem has introduced compliance manuals for clubs that have seen a transformation in the organisation surrounding PSL games. But at lower league level the situation remains a mess.

The two-stream format was foisted on the National First Division clubs by PSL chairman Irvin Khoza before Siem took his post, and the NFD has never recovered from it. The league that is supposed to provide the future talent for the PSL is suffering from a watered-down standard of football and a climate in which clubs cannot simply exist in the NFD. It’s either they get promoted or they sell their franchise after a few seasons. This instability causes clubs to invest in seasoned ex-PSL players rather than risk introducing youngsters. The situation, which is even worse at Vodacom League (third division) level, is strangling South African football and the reason why a talent such as Teko Modise was only identified at 24.

The situation in South African football today can be traced back to 2005 when Danny Jordaan was ousted in a political struggle while he attempted to resume his position as Safa CEO after winning the World Cup bid, and Raymond Hack was installed instead. It is difficult to imagine Bafana being as weak as they were over the past four years if LOC chief executive Jordaan had been in charge.

Now a power struggle looms again when Molefi Oliphant steps down as Safa president early next year, if Fifa doesn’t intervene and make him stay. Both Khoza and Jordaan have made their intention clear to stand. Both are acclaimed South African football administrators. Khoza’s stakes have been raised significantly in the wake of the massive sponsorship and TV rights deals he helped negotiate for the PSL. But Khoza’s insistence that the chief negotiators pay themselves an exorbitant bonus has largely been overlooked by the praise-singers. Khoza has come from the streets and there’s no doubt he is smart as they come. He has outgrown a shady past. But as an administrator he has overseen a period in South African football that has seen Safa and the national team tainted by cut-throat politics, backroom shenanigans, back-stabbing and incompetence.

Safa needs a new broom, and while Jordaan is surely not squeaky clean (no one is), his reputation globally garnered in seven years on the road convincing the world to give the World Cup to South Africa is immense and speaks for itself. It was a mistake not allowing Jordaan to retake the helm of Safa four years ago.

One hopes sense prevails this time round and the choice that is in the best interests of South African football is made. Of course it will be too late for Jordaan to make a significant impact, but his presence at Safa in the months building up to the World Cup might just have the soothing effect so clearly needed to Bafana’s obviously frazzled nerves.

•Marc Strydom will be covering the Confederations Cup in June.

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