Carlos, the grandpa who quit on us

2008-04-26 00:00

So, farewell then, Carlos Alberto Parreira.

Great coach from Brazil, you were appointed to revive our national soccer team and prepare them for 2010. You gave us hope, and you took R1,8 million per month. Fair enough, we winced, that’s the going rate for world class coaches. You developed a young team, and they were beginning to improve, passing the ball neatly, using space.

Last month, we beat Paraguay 3-0, achieving the kind of result that will enable us to qualify for the last 16, and so avoid the ignominy of becoming the first World Cup hosts ever to be eliminated in the group stages. “The philosophy is there,” you enthused afterwards. “The shape is there.”

A month later, you are gone, and we are confused.

The saga started 10 days ago when we read that your wife Leila had revealed to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paolo that you would quit your job and return home. A close family friend was quoted as saying you were leaving South Africa because you miss your family and spend a fortune on telephone calls. Have you heard of Skype? Then again, when you are being paid R1 800 000 per month …

You declined to comment on that first report, and you would probably have called Leila and told her to stop talking to the media, and that would have meant more phone bills. It’s a tough life.

The situation remained unclear until you attended a press conference in Johannesburg on Monday afternoon, and formally resigned. “It is heart-breaking not to have this job until the end,” you said. “My family needs me, especially my wife needs me to be near her. After 36 years of marriage, I cannot say no.”

Some of the journalists had been speculating that your wife was suffering from serious breast cancer, and this terrible news seemed to be confirmed when Safa president Molefi Oliphant, sitting beside you, said: “The coach has a dilemma, a family dilemma. The health of his wife has deteriorated.”

Such matters put sport into perspective. Millions of South Africans accepted your decision on humanitarian grounds.

Imagine our surprise when, just 72 hours later, on Thursday, we read reports that you had told another Brazilian newspaper, O Globo, that your resignation had nothing to do with your wife’s health. “Leila is fine,” you said. “She had problems, but she is fine now. The problem is something else. I was so far away from my grandchildren, and I could not stand it any longer.”

Okay, so you were homesick. Shame.

Great coach from Brazil, you seem a gentle man. You delayed your arrival to see the birth of your grandchildren, and you used to scour the Rosebank Craft Market, buying presents for your family.

Perhaps you have finally realised that, aged 65, after four successful decades in football, you would rather be a doting grandfather than a high profile coach. Maybe you could have said so when Safa first came knocking. Instead, 15 months and R27 million later, perhaps we have all learned you can buy a man’s physical presence, but you cannot buy his heart and soul.

Great coach from Brazil, was there another factor in your decision? Maybe it was not easy working for Safa, maybe it was frustrating. Then again, what did you expect for R1,8 million per month?

At least, as you shuffled off stage, you managed to anoint your successor, ensuring continuity and protecting your legacy. This is no mean feat in SA today. Just ask the national president.

We await the arrival of your compatriot, Joel Santana. Even if he has had 23 coaching jobs in the last 17 years, suggesting he does tend to move on fairly swiftly, we desperately hope he will share our passion and help Bafana Bafana thrive all the way to 2010.

His reported reason for accepting the job, that he will “earn more in the next 30 months than he has earned in the past 30 years”, is scarcely encouraging; yet, as ever, we live in hope.

As for you, Carlos Alberto Parreira, South Africans will remember you as a quitter. You came, you saw and you scarpered.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author and former CEO of SA Rugby. Visit www.onesmallvoice.co.za

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