In an exclusive interview, SAFA technical director NEIL TOVEY discusses the strides made under his mentorship, Bafana Bafana’s failed AFCON 2017 qualification and Sundowns’ clash with Zamalek on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: It’s been over a year since your appointment at SAFA. How has the journey been?
Neil Tovey: It’s proved quite an eye-opener because whether you have played for the national team or not, your perception of the organisation is so different. I have had to get to know the ins and outs of a huge organisation and grow with it. From that aspect, it’s been quite an interesting journey for me and one which has required plenty of hard work, because before I arrived at Safa House, there wasn’t a technical director in place. I have seven different areas in my division: Youth development, national teams, coach education, referees, women’s football, medical and IT and technology. I’m well aware that much work is needed in order to get our football back on track, particularly from a developmental aspect, but we are slowly but surely catching the worm. We have huge development plans in place in terms of rolling out more coaching courses and building up our youth development component, which are key cogs in driving Vision 2022. Our aim is to get 10 000 coaches through our system every year and we want to build our coach education plan, which is a four-year process. Meanwhile, the standard of refereeing has really improved, more workshops are being continuously held and there is now a bigger and better pool from which to draw. There are also more female referees and match commissioners, which underlines the progress we are making. Furthermore, plans are afoot to put both male and female technical officers in place in each province, so that they can run the programs effectively because I can’t be everywhere at any given time. The aim is to have a Caf instructor in each of the 52 regions, who can roll out programs around the country. And, in the top echelons of our age-groups, we want to build leagues which encourage strength versus strength.
Sport24 asked: Bafana Bafana have failed to qualify for AFCON 2017. What’s your assessment?
Neil Tovey: It’s very disappointing given the fact that I felt it was a group that we really could have qualified from, but we are working on a process to bring through better players. Our Under-23s and Women’s team went to the Olympics and our Under-17s attended the World Cup. Meanwhile, our Under-20s have qualified for the next Africa Cup of Nations and will hopefully qualify for the World Cup in South Korea in 2017. We have the programs in place, but obviously our senior national team needs to step up to the plate and be a constant qualifier in all Fifa and Caf competitions. It’s an area which we need to work on and improve. South Africa are drawn in Group D with Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Senegal for 2018 Fifa World Cup qualification. It’s a tough group, but one from which we can definitely qualify. A point away in Burkina Faso, although it could have been all three, was a good start to our campaign, but what we have to bring into our senior national team is a mentality of winning our home games. If you win your home ties, chances are you will grab something away and then you are on the road to qualification. We haven’t done that well enough in the last couple of years. Draws at home are not adequate because we have to deny the opposition in our group a quota of points on their travels. If we ensure that we win our home games, we will definitely qualify.
Sport24 asked: What is your remit in terms of the senior national team and do you offer advice?
Neil Tovey: Shakes Mashaba and I have never entered into any dialogue with regards to the senior national team. Shakes is the head coach of Bafana Bafana and it’s not for me, as the technical director, to say this is what you must or mustn’t do – that’s not my job. If any areas need to be addressed or discussed I can gladly offer advice, but not once has Shakes ever approached me. If Shakes were to come to me and say: “Neil, what do you think about this or that,” I would happily offer my help. I’m more than willing to offer him advice, but if you are not asked, you can’t interfere.
Sport24 asked: Keagan Dolly has shone for club and country. Has he impressed you with his play?
Neil Tovey: Yes, Keagan is an absolutely magnificent player, but he needs to be managed correctly because he has a really heavy workload. But so do Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo! Players like Dolly are the reason I believe Bafana Bafana can look towards the future because there a crop of really talented personnel rising through the ranks. I feel that players of then and now are of equal technical ability, but the mental attitude towards the game was stronger in our players of the past. It’s not always good to compare generations, but in years gone by when things got tough the mental capacity of the players shone through. If our young players hone the mental side of their game along with their technical and tactical abilities, then they would be the complete package – triple threats.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of the embryonic stages of the Absa Premiership season?
Neil Tovey: I believe it’s too early in the season to point out a clear favourite for the Premiership title. To illustrate my point, top-of-the-table Kaizer Chiefs have played five matches to date, while defending champions Sundowns, who lie second from bottom, have only played once owing to their other commitments. I believe we will get a good indication a third of the way through the season once all the clubs have played the same number of matches. That said, Chiefs are starting to come good under Steve Komphela. It’s amazing what a few wins can do because a couple weeks back he was under huge pressure. Meanwhile, I foresee Wits being in the mix, as Gavin Hunt knows how to put a team together. Orlando Pirates and Sundowns will obviously also be in contention come the business end of the season, and I believe SuperSport United can only get better going forward. No team is guaranteed points week-in and week-out, so consistency is the key to winning the title. And, no matter if you are playing a team at the top or bottom, you have to afford them the same respect.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of Sundowns’ road to the African Champions League final?
Neil Tovey: Sundowns have done wonderfully well to reach the final. Having been knocked out of the competition in the round of 16, on the away goals rule by As Vita, Sundowns were reinstated after the former was disqualified for fielding an ineligible player. Sundowns have done exceptionally well to reach the final stage where they will face five-time African Champions Zamalek in the first-leg at the Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday. If they win the tournament, it opens up another berth for one of our local clubs for next year’s competition. Moreover, affording our players vital experience on the continent is something we need as it aids the development of South African football at large. Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane has had to keep his players charged up and he has done that expertly without then having had a break. They have travelled well and have managed the process. However, I feel the Brazilians have to be really wary of Zamalek, as they are renowned campaigners on the road. Sundowns have played them twice and have fared well, but that is where complacency can creep in. There is no doubt ‘Downs have the ability to beat Zamalek both home and away but, at the end of the day, it’s a two-legged affair and they need to be very professional in their approach. The home team have to guard against conceding an away goal because it could prove decisive.