EXCLUSIVE: Former Bafana Bafana defender Matthew Booth chats to Sport24

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Matthew Booth (Gallo)
Matthew Booth (Gallo)
  • Ex-Bafana Bafana centre back Matthew Booth talks about being snubbed by his country while playing some of his best football in Russia and never featuring at a FIFA World Cup.
  • The ex-Sundowns defender assesses the PSL run-in and discusses how Benni McCarthy, tipped as the next Bafana head coach, has worked a “near-miracle” with in-form AmaZulu.
  • The current SuperSport TV pundit also runs the rule over the challenges facing South African football and whether or not the association’s Vision 2022 is style over substance.

Sport24 asked: How have you advanced with your coaching badges?

Matthew Booth: In terms of my progression in coaching, I’ve never been looking for freebies. I was just after information and aiming to be part of some sort of database. For the longest time everything has been on hold with regards to coaching output. It has stagnated our game to a huge degree because you’ve got to coach coaches. I started to look overseas for options which I shouldn’t really have to do have done. However, over the last couple of weeks SAFA sent out a letter to ex-professionals offering them a chance to do their C and B Licence together. I’m in the process of applying and currently hold a D Licence in coaching. In practical terms, I should only be able to host a community festival and shouldn’t be allowed to coach young amateur players. But of course the policing of that is virtually non-existent within South Africa. I believe there are some coaches in the PSL who are not qualified at all. A little while back when an NFD owner contacted me about a potential opportunity, it set alarming bells ringing because ultimately as a coach you want to be independent. Owners put a lot of money into their respective clubs, so I understand they want to have a certain amount of influence with what goes on but football doesn’t work like that. If you employ a coach to do the job then you have to allow him or her to do it. There is far too much interference not only from club owners but technical directors too. That is one of the big aspects putting me off getting involved within the ranks of senior coaching.

Sport24 asked: Where is it going wrong for South African football?

Matthew Booth: I feel the Bafana Bafana job is almost a poison chalice. We focus too much on the senior men’s team in South Africa and the actual problem with our football is at grassroots and LFA level. We haven’t maximised our pool of talent. If you look at the current Bafana Bafana squad they have good technical ability and should be qualifying for the Nations Cup and World Cup every two and four years respectively. However, when you look at each position there is actually not much depth. For a country of 58 million people where soccer is our number sport, we should have three or four quality players in each position and 10 to 15 players spread across the English Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga but we don’t. In order to maximise that pool of talent, we have to start generating good players from LFA and grassroots level. We need to get school sports going, with only 10% of students participating in sport. It’s not good enough!

Sport24 asked: Your take on the vacant Bafana Bafana position?

Matthew Booth: SAFA are in a bit of a tight spot. The four men I heard Danny Jordaan had originally shortlisted were Hugo Broos, Hector Cuper, Eric Tinkler and Carlos Queiroz in that order. However, TimesLive are reporting that Benni McCarthy has agreed a deal in principle. It’s surprising to hear but I hope that he has gone into negotiations hard and has the final say in certain areas. I also hope he has some sort of say in the overall development and vision the country is going to take during his tenure. If Benni leaves before the end of the domestic season, AmaZulu owner Sandile Zungu has every right to ask for compensation especially when you consider Usuthu’s form. It hasn’t come at the right time for AmaZulu and I think the sensible thing is for Benni to be caretaker coach for the national team in the meantime while he continues with his project at AmaZulu until the end of the season... In terms of Ntseki’s sacking, I felt it was too short a time for him in the job. As it is, national team coaches have very little time to work with the squad that they want. However, having said that I still felt that we should have qualified for AFCON 2021. We should be doing that every two years without fail. Ntseki’s dismissal was harsh but in the same breath it was understandable why he was pushed out. When coaching a senior team there is more impatience involved and people want immediate results. At national level, you would expect the association to give a coach more time and be understanding but when there’s a public outcry there tends to be a knee-jerk reaction for popularity’s sake. We scream and shout at Bafana but I think we are looking in the wrong areas.

Sport24 asked: Are SAFA’s plans more style than substance?

Matthew Booth: In the past we had Vision 2000 which was successful because sponsor Sasol drove it well. They pumped money in; the team was well-travelled and consistent with the same coach for six years. It ultimately resulted in us qualifying for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Subsequently there has been Vision 2022 but it was rather scattered. There was no real substance to the whole project but it sounded grand in name. In this beautiful country of ours we have too many chiefs who love writing up long documents and resolutions but very few people who are in a position to roll their sleeves up and do the dirty work. In my experience, we have so many willing volunteers and people with much knowledge who have been shifted downward and out of the sphere of influence. We need to bring back those types of people into the system, so they can actually have an impact and create the change we need. Unfortunately, there is still politics at play. In the past, I always maintained that politicians should be kept away from our sport completely. Subsequently I have realised they do have a role to play in our sport but I feel it must be a very limited one. They are important from a point of generating sponsorship capacity, facilities and perhaps mediation but on the day-to-day running of the game and manufacturing policy, they shouldn’t be part of that process. We should have qualified professional administrators and experienced former footballers playing their part in those roles.

Sport24 asked: Any regrets from your international career?

Matthew Booth: I have regrets from my international career in the sense that I don’t feel I played enough matches. I felt that I deserved to have more caps under my belt than 37. During my six-year stint in Russia, I didn’t get called up for the national team. It was a pity because that was when I was playing some of my best football. The fact that I never got to play in a World Cup or a Nations Cup was disappointing and they are two big regrets for sure. I made the squads but sat on the bench. I wanted to be tested against the best in the world and thankfully got the chance to do that during the 2009 Confederations Cup. I got to play against Spain and Brazil, who were number one and two at the time. My last cap for Bafana was in 2010 and I’m not sure why I wasn’t called up again. I was hoping that when Pitso Mosimane took over he would phone me and explain why I wasn’t involved anymore. However, it became clear to me that he wanted to work with a younger squad. I would have loved to have continued to play for my country but understood at the time that perhaps he wanted to give the younger generation the opportunity.

Sport24 asked: What are the potential pitfalls in the game?

Matthew Booth: I think everybody does something stupid with their first pay cheque. When I returned to Sundowns from Russia I was driving a BMW 335i Cabriolet, an X5 and then a VW Touareg. Everybody knows that cars are not the best investments and you’ve got to realise sooner rather than later that as a professional footballer you have to start saving. I always had that fear of the after-life (from football) and what was going to happen if I got injured and have a shortened career. A number of my colleagues didn’t have that fear and almost lived for today. Within Europe and South Africa, 75% of footballers five years after retirement will either be bankrupt, divorced or be dependent on alcohol or drugs. I wrote a letter to the Minister of Sport outlining what ex-players have to deal with from an economic, psychological and physical point of view and suggested a pension fund idea for him to consider. Sadly my letter wasn’t responded to, however, I still feel strongly that players should contribute to some sort of fund from the minute they sign their first contract and then get a form of pay-out during the retirement years.

Sport24 asked: What do you make of the PSL title race?

Matthew Booth: Only a month ago people were talking about Sundowns running away with the league but they had some tough fixtures over five games. They have hit a bit of a speedbump and I feel they are almost there for the taking. If you are going to beat Sundowns now is the best time to do it and Orlando Pirates lie in wait on Sunday. I think Downs are a bit unsure in terms of their team selection and have some injuries popping up at this time of the season which is normal. Even though Sundowns have two games in hand, AmaZulu are hot on their heels and only a point behind. What Benni McCarthy has managed to do at AmaZulu is actually a near-miracle. It’s unprecedented what he has achieved and it’s a perfect example of how club owners should run their teams. What Zungu and his family have done is they have allowed Benni to bring in the coaching team of his choice and he has had no interference in his team selection. It has enabled him to do his job to the best of his ability and the club has had success because of it.

Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests. Who’s invited?

Matthew Booth: From the sporting fraternity I would invite Lucas Radebe, who has plenty of stories to tell. He would be the entertainer for the evening and is someone I have always admired. He was one of the centre backs I always tried to cherry-pick from. I keep my ear to the ground politically and Bantu Holomisa would also crack the nod. The general has stories to tell and I have met him socially as we share a love of golf. Last but not least, I would invite famous South African author Zakes Mda, who currently lives in the United States. My wife Sonia and I are avid readers and part of The Booth Education and Sports Trust is to encourage kids to read. 

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