Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, newly-appointed Bafana Bafana coach MOLEFI NTSEKI talks about the state of SA football, preparing for AFCON 2021 qualifiers and serving Sylvester Stallone fried chicken.
Sport24 asked: How does it feel to be appointed Bafana Bafana head coach?
Molefi Ntseki: For me, it is a moment of excitement but also one of accountability and responsibility. When I started coaching 21 years ago, I did not know that today I would be senior national team coach. The journey has been very interesting for me at first division and PSL level and then ultimately joining SAFA as a coach and working with the junior and senior teams. Today I can stand on my own and say that the experience I have acquired over years provided me with the opportunity to serve as Bafana head coach. When you are handed a position like this, you get excited at first but the reality is that you have to deliver. You have to be very good in terms of your collective qualities, personality and knowledge of football at national team level. In terms of potential challenges when talking the national team, whenever you select players you are calling them up both locally and abroad and from different spheres of life. Locally and internationally players are working with different coaches and styles of play and philosophies. When you bring the players together, as a coach you need to bring about the tactical understanding and cohesion. As players and coaches we have to understand that we’re representing our country and have to do well and play for the badge.
Sport24 asked: What will Trott Moloto and Arthur Zwane add to the set-up?
Molefi Ntseki: If we had to give a profile on coach Trott, I think we would talk about him for the whole day. He has done very well for himself as a player and a coach and also as a technical advisor. He has been part of the Sundowns set-up which won the Champions League and the PSL Championship. He is very much cool-headed and is a down-to-earth type of individual but with a vast knowledge of the game. I felt that if we had someone like that in our team, we will always look up to him and refer to him as our voice of reason if there are things to be addressed from that level. Meanwhile, coach Arthur has done very well for himself since he stopped playing. He played for Bafana Bafana and is a Kaizer Chiefs legend. Since he retired from playing and took up coaching, he has identified and worked with a few players currently in the Bafana team. I felt we needed to bring in someone like him who players could relate to and look up to. He can also be of assistance to our technical team and add value and be part of the learning process, which all of us are going through.
Sport24 asked: Was it tough for you to have back-to-back friendlies cancelled?
Molefi Ntseki: It was a very big disappointment not only for me as a new coach and our technical team and players but even for the whole country. We all wanted to see Bafana Bafana playing against Zambia or Madagascar. But, at the same time, I need to apologise to all football people because it wasn’t of our own making. Unfortunately things like this do happen and I look at it as a natural cause. When it comes to the riots, looting and all the bad things that are happening in the country at the moment, I am appealing to all South Africans and Africans to be peace-loving people and let us remember all the time that we are brothers and sisters. Let us protect and love each other and bring an end to this animosity, xenophobia and killings. As human beings, let us look after each other well and stop all the negative things that are happening. Returning to on-field matters, the next FIFA week will be in October and we are working very hard to see our programme being well executed. We want to play friendlies next month. We need to have a game in October so we can prepare for Ghana and Sudan. We can’t go into the Ghana clash without having played a preparation match. We really need to assess ourselves and see which players can do well in a particular system.
Sport24 asked: Were Bafana Bafana too defence-minded during AFCON 2019?
Molefi Ntseki: When people look at our approach as being too defensive, I have a different view because in football there are moments when you have to manage a game – whether you are leading or under pressure. When it comes to being defensive or offensive it also depends on the tactical strategies that you have for your opponent and your team on the day of the game. We went into AFCON 2019 having played less preparation matches and in the beginning it was about getting the team to gel. When we got to the Egypt game, we were at a level where everybody could understand and the rhythm was right in terms of how we wanted to play. We had a very good plan and sound execution and that is how everything ended in our favour. After the Egypt match, I think we depleted all our energies. Heading into the quarterfinal against Nigeria, it was very difficult for us to keep the same rhythm and tempo. If you look at how we lost some of the games, it was not because of us being too defensive. It was mainly towards the end of the game from a transition or set-play. Something like that can happen to any team, even the best in the world. It was unfortunate that against Nigeria we conceded very late when we were already preparing for extra-time. I don’t think so (that we showed Nigeria too much respect) because we were working with professionals and according to the plan. We were fully aware that Nigeria had very quick wingers and they were more dependent on attacking from the flanks. In trying to deal with that situation, we ended up giving away the set-play which ultimately led to the winning goal. We didn’t take the game for granted and weren’t worried about losing the match. It was just an ordinary game and unfortunately we lost out.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Bafana’s opponents for AFCON 2021 qualifiers?
Molefi Ntseki: We have been drawn in Group C alongside Ghana, Sudan and either Mauritius or Sao Tome e Principe for the AFCON 2021 qualifiers. I think our group is a difficult one but, at the same time, we are giving ourselves an opportunity. We will do a proper profiling of Ghana and Sudan before we look into who the players are we want to bring in and which system we are going to deploy against those two opponents. We know that Ghana are more like us in the sense that they are in a building phase. They have not been doing well as a national team but Ghana is a football country and we know that they can always be very strong and give you a good game. As of now, we might not know much about Sudan but by the time we play them we would have done our analysis and profiling of them as a team. We are looking for positive results in whatever we are doing and we are saying we have to do well and we will do well and qualify for Cameroon 2021. If we do well in Cameroon, it will give us a very positive platform for us to do well in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and competition. If you look at the current situation of the South African football landscape, we have a very good group of players who can easily be phased in and some of the players in the current Bafana Bafana squad might be phased out due to age, loss of form or injury. We will have a better balanced team going into the qualifiers. For me, if we do well we will qualify for AFCON 2021 and then we should use it prepare and cement our qualification for the World Cup. Doing well at the 2022 World Cup should come from our performances at AFCON in two years’ time.
Sport24 asked: Are you predicting a bright future for South African football?
Molefi Ntseki: It’s true that the future of South African football is bright and I’m actually calling for all South Africans to be positive and to look after this young generation of players well. We normally allow our players to go astray whenever they are so talented but we are looking forward to them to be helping the national team. If we look after our current crop of players well, we will be able to manage them better and ultimately they will do well for Bafana Bafana. It’s about cultivating the right mentality. The other day I visited the under-23 boys and said, “None of you have ever worked with me before but I’m happy to see what is happening with you now. All that is important is that we want to see you playing for top teams in Europe.” Even though we do have some of them playing for top teams in the country, which is a plus, we should not be having our under-23 players playing for lower league teams in Europe. We want them to be playing for top teams in Europe because they have got the talent, ability and age on their side. Take Ansu Fati, who comes from Guinea-Bissau, as a case in point. The 16-year-old is scoring goals for Barcelona and taking La Liga by storm. We have such players in this country but the question I would ask is: can we look after them well and give them that exposure to be seen by the top clubs in the world? As of now, we should start looking after our young players’ careers. All that is important is for us to do well at the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. We want to go to the Olympics next year and leave a mark and not make up the numbers.
Sport24 asked: Your dream dinner guests, who would they be and why?
Molefi Ntseki: I would invite the president of South Africa. He is the first citizen of this country and many achievements we have achieved in this country has to do with him. I would also invite my reverend from church to be part of the evening. Him and I are men of good faith and all that is happening in my favour is thanks to God. In terms of movie stars, when I was growing up my favourite was Sylvester Stallone and I would enjoy catching up with him over a meal. When it comes to food, I would love to have fried chicken with vegetables and a green salad. That would be my best menu and something I could prepare if I had to impress my wife Makhotso, who would also be at the dinner. She has been a pillar of strength to me through the years. Gospel – whether contemporary or traditional – is the music that talks to my emotions and I would have it playing in the background.