Cape Town – The search for a new Bafana Bafana coach is already feverishly under way. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not an easy search. It’s fra...
Cape Town – The search for a new Bafana Bafana coach is already feverishly under way. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not an easy search. It’s fraught with difficulty. And, at a time when South Africa’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup is on the line, and in a sport where everybody has an opinion, Safa’s decision on who will succeed Shakes Mashaba is critical.
Mashaba was given the boot on Thursday for gross misconduct and insubordination. So, looking ahead, as Safa contemplate the appointment, there are key issues that need to be weighed. It’s pointless to simply throw names into the ring. What rather needs to be addressed is to ascertain what type of coach Safa should be looking for.
The association has already stated that its search is for a coach who is “familiar with African football competition”. Nothing wrong with that, but should that be all that is required? Certainly not.
So let’s unpack some of the qualities the next Bafana coach should have. As Safa has suggested, it’s vital the coach has experience of football on the continent. Because of South Africa’s insularity when it comes to the rest of the continent, previous Bafana coaches have often been found wanting when it comes to playing conditions and the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. And by going in blind, as such, they’ve come short.
The debate around grassroots, youth structures and development has been spoken about ad nauseam. There is, of course, much truth to the discussion, but the national coach can’t deal with that when he has more important matters to deal with, like qualification for major events. In short, his job is just to concern himself with the players he has in his care – and that means he has to get the best out of them. To do that, he has to be an excellent coach, in tune with the way the modern game has evolved, and capable of infusing his philosophy through his training methods. He has to have a tactical bent, be an astute, deep thinker on the game. The approach where a coach just sends out his best team and hopes for the best is long gone.
Former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands goalkeeper Stanley Menzo, the current Ajax Cape Town coach, has worked under Dutch master Johan Cruyff and was the Netherlands’ goalkeeper-coach at the 2006 World Cup. Having had vast experience of playing and coaching at national level, he has a clear idea of the make-up of a national coach.
“It’s difficult for me to say what type of coach South Africa has to get,” he said. “But I can tell you from a general perspective what is required of national team coaches. First of all, a national team needs a face – in other words, what is the philosophy, what is the way you want to play. Once you have that, then the decision is easier. But, most importantly, a national team needs a strong personality in charge. The coach has to deal with different types of players coming from different clubs, different backgrounds and different attitudes. All of that, he has to organise into unified team.”
Menzo’s words ring even truer in a South African context, especially taking into consideration this country’s divided history. Many previous Bafana coaches have failed dismally in this regard. But when a coach was able to successfully knit all the disparate elements into a uniform whole, it led to Bafana’s most successful period ever – winning the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.
Another area that the new coach needs to devote attention to is the relationship between the clubs and the national team. Far too often, football’s various participants all work quietly in their own little corner and never really discuss the more important national objective. In essence, there needs to be greater co-operation between everybody – and the new Bafana coach has to initiate and drive such a process.
Whoever the new man is, though, he’ll be up against it right from the start. The 2018 World Cup in Russia is the ultimate goal. At the moment, after two games, Bafana are in a good position in the qualifying group, but there’s no room for error. And the new coach will be expected to hit the ground running when the qualifiers resume in August next year.
To be honest, when Mashaba was first appointed as Bafana coach in July 2014, I wasn’t too enthusiastic. But he proved me wrong as he immediately pensioned off the dead wood in the squad and brought in a host of promising young footballers. There was renewed vigour and vitality, and the players performed with hunger and desire. At that time, it was such a breath of fresh air. But we all know what happened next
While the failure to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations is a major stain on Mashaba’s tenure, for me, it’s his thin-skinned reaction to criticism that is his greatest flaw. The constant attacks on the media were tiresome and, to crown it all, his suggestion in May last year that his “colour” was the reason why he was being criticised was simply preposterous. In short, if you’re a national coach, you’re in a hot seat. If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.