Maverick players may be just what Shakes needs

2015-02-12 00:00

THE sports editor’s ratings of the Bafana Bafana player performances for the Afcon (Weekend Witness, January 31) got me thinking. In his ratings, the editor ­bemoaned the very average performance of the majority of the squad.

A lot was said in the media prior to the tournament about how coach Shakes ­Mashaba had united the team and “got the dressing room behind him”. A lot was also said about Shakes’s hard-line stance on most of the European-based players that he left out.

Comparisons were made between Mashaba and former coach Clive Barker (who of course won the Afcon in 1996) and how similar these two coaches were in their “old-school” approach. Having had the privilege of meeting these two coaches and training under them on coaching courses, I would venture to suggest that such comparisons were very far off the mark.

In Barker’s victorious team of 1996, he not only had Neil Tovey as captain but there were many strong-willed characters in the team such as Mark Fish, Eric Tinkler, John Moshoeu and Shaun Bartlett.

These players were able to forge careers for themselves in Europe away from the relatively comfy confines of domestic football. That is testament not only to their abilities but also to their characters.

What is crucial is that Barker was ­prepared to manage these characters and egos. Fish’s exploits in breaking team ­curfews are legendary but he wasn’t sent home or even dropped; the coach knew that he was a big player who could come up with a game-breaking play and he did just that, as did many of that team during that tournament.

Mashaba made a principled and admirable stand before the tournament that it was going to be his way or no way. But as the sports editor implied, his team were lacking in leadership and ultimately that extra bit of quality that “big” players provide when a team are needing a goal or have just conceded a goal. This could have been provided by Thulani Serero, ­Kamohelo Mokotjo (both playing in ­Holland), May Mahlangu (Turkey) and ­Siyanda Xulu (Russia). Mashaba is going to have to find a way to get these ­“mavericks” into his dressing room!

If I may digress, one can think of many examples where title-winning teams had plenty of these maverick-type players.

South Africa’s World Cup-winning ­rugby teams had the likes of James Small, Joost van der Westhuizen, Mark Andrews and Butch James.

In cricket Lance Klusener comes to mind as a player who didn’t simply follow the team zeitgeist and when he was at his belligerent best was when we came closest to winning the big tournament.

Perhaps something for the Proteas ­players to think of there as they depart for the World Cup: we don’t only need “11 leaders on the field”, we need some ­mavericks too.

• Haswell is a former youth team coach at Maritzburg United and is now the football manager at the Sharks-AmaZulu Academy in Durban.

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