How to fix Bafana Bafana

2008-09-12 00:00

The opening match of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, which will certainly feature South Africa as the host nation, will be played at FNB stadium 637 days (one year, eight months and 30 days) from today.

Time has an annoying habit of moving on and, with each passing day, it becomes more and more likely that Bafana Bafana will high-step onto the greatest stage of all and, in what ought to be their finest hour, perform below their potential and look like nothing less than a national embarrassment.

In eight decades of Fifa world cups, no host country has ever been eliminated in the pool phase.

After their most recent failure, losing to Nigeria last weekend and so failing to qualify for the 2010 African Cup of Nations, the responsible group of bemused Safa officials, ludicrously overpaid Brazilian coaches and hapless players may now, in the words of Tony Blair at the Irish peace talks, feel the hand of history on their shoulders.

By any measure, Bafana Bafana remain a shambles, showing no sign of improvement. What now? Must we accept our fate, rest our collective neck on the block and wait for the axe to fall in June 2010? Or could salvation yet be at hand?

The basic approach probably needs to be the same now as it was when there were still four years before the tournament, but now it must be executed at speed and be prefaced by a decision to send home the millionaire mercenaries from Brazil.

As Clive Barker bravely stated this week, current coach Joel Santana is patently out of his depth in international football and, together with his assistants, should be sent back to Rio de Janeiro where they can put up their feet, count their Rands and prepare to watch SA 2010, on TV.

Then, SAfa need to make three key appointments.

First, the team urgently requires a qualified administrative director who will be given total authority to plan and execute a series of training camps and friendly matches for the next 20 months; this person will effectively steer the ship, organise the players; liaise with their respective clubs at home and abroad; improve the media profile and gradually restore some semblance of confidence around the country.

Second, the team urgently requires a head coach with the personal profile, iconic status and integrity to inspire immediate respect among players and supporters. Once it is finally agreed that the person who coaches the South African team at South Africa’s own World Cup should be a South African, there is one candidate qualified to take this role. His name is Lucas Radebe.

Third, as a young coach, in the mould of Jurgen Klinsmann, who successfully guided Germany as hosts of the 2006 World Cup, Radebe will need the support of a wise foreign technical director with experience of managing teams at a World Cup. The new coach, himself, should be given sole authority to scour the world and select whoever he wants to work alongside him.

This trio of qualified professionals should then be left to get on with the job, contractually and physically cocooned and protected from the influence, interference and denigration of those would-be, could-be, should-be politicians who have for far too long cast dark shadows in the murky corridors of Safa.

Question 1: Does any of this really matter?

In 2010, when the eyes of the world will focus on this country as never before, and probably never again, the difference between a winning Bafana team — reflecting a winning nation, projecting a positive global image of a confident country where people would want to invest, trade and holiday — and a losing Bafana team will be measured in not tens of millions of U.S. dollars, but many hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars. It matters, all right.

Question 2: Who will call the ambulance?

Now he has concluded years of negotiations by facilitating the formation of a unity government in Zimbabwe, maybe Thabo Mbeki will have time to spend a couple of days sorting out Bafana Bafana. Nothing less than presidential clout will resolve the current mess and ensure the right decisions are made.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist and former CEO of SA Rugby.

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