Pressing Issues: Coach on shaky ground with leaders and keepers

2015-02-08 15:00

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In sharing some pearls of wisdom, Stanley “Screamer” Tshabalala once revealed some important aspects on how he had built the all-conquering Mamelodi Sundowns of the 1980s.

This was the club that swept almost everything on offer and, for a short period, stood head and shoulders above SA football giants Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

“You see, Mfanakithi,” he opined, “when you build a team, you start by shutting the back door.”

By that, he meant you start by having a good goalkeeper. And no one can argue that, in Mark Anderson, he did not have one of the best in the trade at the time.

“Then you build the spine, which is a good central defender, central midfielder and centre forward.”

Thinking about these words, my view is Shakes Mashaba – who incidentally played alongside Tshabalala in the early 1970s – missed this aspect at the recent Africa Cup of Nations.

Using three different goalkeepers in three matches at the tournament in Equatorial Guinea was one of the major downfalls of our national team. In essence, this meant Mashaba went into the tournament with no proven or confirmed number one goalkeeper.

I am also convinced Mashaba’s strategy of not having a permanent, if not consistent, captain, backfired.

Case in point, the missed penalty in the opening match against Algeria.

Many, yours truly included, agree Tokelo Rantie was not the right player to take the penalty. The reasons for this: speedy players are by nature not the best penalty takers – anyone who knows something about football will tell you this.

Having missed several chances until that point, Rantie’s confidence could not have been very high.

Being the player who was brought down in the first place, he must have been emotional at the time, which is a recipe for disaster, as the player in such a situation is bent on proving a point.

And here comes the role of a strong, firm and sober-minded captain. He would have yanked him aside and prevented him from taking the penalty.

But poor Dean Furman – not being sure whether he is the permanent captain or if any decision he makes could see him stripped of the skipper’s armband for the next game – could do little other than stand aside and watch the player who had already picked up the ball and was gearing himself to take the spot kick.

Goalkeeping and the captaincy are the two aspects of the game I think Mashaba misjudged.

It would have helped a lot to go into the tournament with a number one goalie and a permanent captain.

I know some will argue that following Itumeleng Khune’s injury and Senzo Meyiwa’s sad and untimely death, Mashaba found himself in a quagmire.

But being a leader at national level also comes with the responsibility to be decisive.

Going back to Tshabalala’s view of building a strong team, there was a time in South African football when the three positions of goalkeeper, central defender and centre forward (your traditional number 9), were dominated by white players.

One can think of the likes of Anderson, Gary Bailey, Dave Wasmuth, Dave Waterson, Eugene Kleynhans, Peter Bala’c and others.

On the central defence part, one can mention some sturdy white characters, such as Stuart Lilley, Jimmy Joubert, Brummie de Leur, John Salter, Mike Lambert and Frank “Jingles” Perreira.

Gangling centre forwards included Shane McGregor, Frank McGrellis (an import from Scotland), Noel Cousins and Kevin Moodie.

But those days are long gone and South Africa is now blessed with an abundance of talented keepers, defenders and centre forwards of all colours and backgrounds.

Save for the lack of firepower upfront, our national team should not be struggling at international level, as it should be easy to build a team with a proper, strong spine.

All that is needed is proper planning and a bit of level-headedness.

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