Crisis point for Bafana

2008-04-20 00:00

JUST when it seemed that Bafana Bafana had finally turned a corner ahead of the 2010 World Cup, the man who engineered that turnaround, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, is gone.

Parreira and the SA Football Association are expected to announce the coach’s resignation at a media briefing in Johannesburg at around 3 pm today. This will follow an extraordinary meeting of Safa’s national executive committee at 2 pm, where it is believed the coach will hand in his notice.

This shock development — the result, according to reports in the Brazilian press, of Parreira wanting to return to Brazil to attend to his seriously ill wife, Leila, who has cancer — could not have come at a worse time for Bafana.

The national team, after their tame exit in the first round of the African Nations Cup in Ghana in January, had finally roared into life in an impressive 3-0 victory over a highly-rated Paraguay in Pretoria at the end of last month. Bafana had been threatening to “click” for some time under Parreira, and against the South Americans it seemed this had finally happened.

The result was significant because it silenced government detractors of Parreira, including Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile, who had threatened to “nationalise” Bafana, and the chairman of the parliament’s portfolio committee on sport, Butana Khompela, who had called the coach and players “pathetic”.

In an excellent victory over the Paraguayans, Bafana also went a long way to winning over what had been an increasingly sceptical press. Parreira, Bafana’s 14th coach in 15 years, seemed set for a luxury few before him had experienced of an improving relationship with the media and breathing space to continue calling up experimental squads, creating a pool of young, up-and-coming players ahead of 2010.

No-one expected Bafana to suddenly start winning all their games convincingly, but 2008 was poised to be an exciting turning point, with the team set to become more clearly defined in its player personnel, and more consistent in its performances in the year of the Confederations Cup in 2009.

Whoever takes over from Parreira now will not quite have to start from scratch. They will have the legacy of a pool of around 90 players that were identified by the Brazilian World Cup-winning coach since taking over the Bafana job in January last year.

But for any coach, building a competitive team for the World Cup in just two years will be an undertaking verging on the impossible. To make matters worse, Bafana have vital Nations Cup qualifiers to play in the following months. They meet Nigeria in Abuja on May 30, then in June are at home against Equatorial Guinea, away against Sierra Leone, then at home again to Sierra Leone in the space of three weeks.

Parreira has reportedly named several potential successors, saying he believes Safa should employ a Brazilian. These include current Flamengo coach Joel Santana and International boss Abel Braga.

Other names linked to the job include former England and current Manchester City coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose contract ends after Euro 2008 in June. Scolari won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 and took Portugal to the Euro 2004 final and 2006 World Cup semi-finals.

Safa might choose to give the job to Parreira’s assistants, Jairo Leal and Pitso Mosimane, for the sake of continuity and to carry on the work the coach has started.

Swift decisions and action must be taken by the association, perhaps with assistance from LOC chairman Danny Jordaan and Fifa president Sepp Blatter, to find the right man in the shortest space of time, and avoid a national catastrophe.

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