Who can save SA soccer?

Sport24 columnist George Dearnaley
Sport24 columnist George Dearnaley
George Dearnaley

It’s been a disastrous few months for Bafana Bafana, culminating in non-qualification for the 2010 African Nations Cup tournament in Angola. The writing has been on the wall for sometime that things are falling apart, but our soccer leaders have continued to plod along in the vain hope that things will all be okay in the end.

Everyone and his dog has come out screaming and shouting that the expensive Brazilian coach must go. He makes for a nice easy target. Sure, he has won one game in seven, and there is no way of defending such a dismal record, but he is not the reason we find our national soccer team in such a pathetic state.

I watched Finland play Germany the other night in an exciting 3–3 draw. The Finish coach was ex-Bafana coach Stuart Baxter. Another ex-Bafana coach, Carlos Queiroz, has just taken over at Portugal after being a very successful assistant coach at Manchester United. Phillippe Troussier did a great job at Japan in 2002. So perhaps it isn’t something to do with the coaches – but they are easy targets.

The next targets on our list are the players, especially the rich ones who stand up for themselves in the media. Perhaps it is all Benni’s fault? Perhaps every time he has ‘retired’ we have gone a few steps backwards. The European-based players have caused too much dissension among the squad and are the main reason we can’t win a game! A great strategy for Continental-domination is to have one of our SAFA officials come out and blame the players in the media. Remember Egypt ‘2006’ – it was all Benni’s fault – and Ted Dumitru also took some flak for our non-performance and no goals.

When we look back at what has happened within our national soccer team over the last 12 years, from the glory days of 1996 to the gory days of 2008, there are some consistencies. Coaches get fired for poor performances – that is a very consistent trend. Some of them even get fired for not picking certain players. Players get left out of squads, bashed in the media, blamed for poor results and hung out to dry – that has been consistent too.

Another consistency is that the leadership at the top remains. They don’t feel they are responsible for any of the calamity. “Bring in another coach!” seems to be the strategy. It is a strategy that is doomed to fail. There doesn’t seem to be any vision, there is no consistency in our development programmes, there is no national talent identification programme, and there is very little conversation among those who run the game and those who play the game, coach the game, and watch the game.

Strategy for improvement

The first step is to agree on where we want to go with our soccer – what are our objectives? If we are happy being in the top 70 of World Football then great, we are already there. But if we want to be among the top three African teams, and if we want to qualify for 2014 and 2018 World Cup tournaments, and if we want our U23’s to qualify for the 2012 Olympic games, and if we want our woman’s team to qualify for the World Cup and our junior teams to win a trophy in the next 12 years, then we need a strategy to get our teams into a position to compete and be successful.

I spoke with expert High Performance Consultant Wayne Goldsmith recently. He helps sports teams and organisations perform better.He works with the Australian Olympic team, the Wallabies rugby team and some of the Super14 teams. He has been to South African more than a dozen times and says the solution for an improvement in our soccer performance is actually quite simple.

Firstly, we must agree on what we have.

  • We have talent
  • Facilities
  • Passion
  • Sports science expertise
  • A great climate
  • And decent funding of our sports associations

Secondly, we must acknowledge what we don’t have.

  • We don’t have an integrated system that identifies talent at youth level and monitors this talent through school level, into professional teams and finally into the national structure
  • We don’t have a world class coach education and development programme
  • We don’t have world class governance and leadership in our sport federations. Look through the papers, they are all fighting with each other and blaming each other and passing the buck
  • We don’t have strong leadership with a long term vision
  • And we don’t have self-belief. Without the belief that we can actually compete at the highest levels, that we can win the World Cup soccer tournament, we will always aim low

If we can all agree on what we have and what we don’t have, we can then identify the steps to correct our weaknesses and create the programmes needed to improve the local game. There is no guarantee for success, but you can give yourself a better chance of success if you all work together towards a common goal, a shared vision and if you put aside the personal ambitions and focus on what is best for the nation.

Bafana’s results in 2008 have been poor, but the performances have been better in recent matches. If we keep the coach, and we support the players, and we work hard at improving in all areas, then we will be better in 2009 and even more competitive in 2010. We won’t win the tournament, but we will have a young squad moving in the right direction, and then if we stick to our strategy of improvement, we could go close to winning the Nations Cup in 2012, and perhaps qualify for the Olympic Games in London. But we need the leaders at the top to acknowledge their weaknesses, to consult with the relevant stakeholders who love the game, to bring in experts in areas where we are weak, and to plot our long term strategy so we can take our place among the elite. We have a lot of the ingredients to be successful, but we must stop taking shots at easy targets and focus on the hard things that need to be done to improve.

Disclaimer: George would like to put his hand up for a soccer development position within the national organisation!

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