Finally, Bafana Bafana has a new boss, as expected. His name is Hugo Broos from Belgium. Typical of South Africa, he already has a nickname – Fa-Fa. Consistent with our well-known trance and hypnotism, many have already said: “he is well-qualified”, “he must rebuild”, and “let us give him a chance”. Those are the three things we have been saying for every coach of Bafana – indeed an extraordinary feat of a trance.
Although Broos has reportedly signed a five-year contract, the average lifespan of a Bafana coach has been two years in the past 15 years. In my previous article, I suggested that we rather take six years’ (that is three AFCONs and two World Cups) leave of absence, I will be the first one to wish the new coach all the success in the world. After all, as a true patriot, I want Bafana to return to glory days.
On Wednesday night I listened to coach Broos on the Robert Marawa Show when he outlined his philosophy, plans and approaches. Among other things he said he would focus on rebuilding and playing with young players. And according to media reports, the coach has been given a mandate to qualify for the 2023 AFCON and the 2026 World Cup. Almost every new Bafana coach is given the same mandate. It’s a trance with the ambition limited to qualification only, right? Yeah.
The coach’s heart and mind are at the right place: rebuild and work with the youth. This is the same heart and mind of previous coaches like Parreira, Santana, Baxter, Mosimane and others. In fact, Parreira placed a lot of emphasis on youth development. That is the no-brainer message that he left SAFA with.
As I argued before, the crisis in the national team is not the lack of talent but development structures and related aspects. The question arises: now that the coach’s heart is in the right place, where will he get the young players he so desperately needs, if we do not have the structures that produce them? Let us look at the sources he is likely to depend on.
CURRENT PERFORMANCE IN COMPARATIVE TERMS
The national team is the elite level of any country. You do not necessarily build and certainly, you do not train young players. That is a function of the U23 and the U17 teams, as well as the football academies and the junior teams of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) teams. At the national level, we compete, and we work with complete products, championship material players.
For example, players like Messi, Neymar Jr, Pele can play in elite football leagues and for their national teams at 17 years of age, precisely because they have been given opportunities a youth level and guarded jealously. National teams in developing or middle-income countries like Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina, no longer worry about qualifying for the World Cup but reaching the Final.
The highest goal scorer for Bafana remains Benny McCarthy, who scored 31 goals in 79 appearances between 1997 and 2012. In the PSL era, it is Zambian international Collins Mbesuma with 25 goals, followed by Zimbabwean Wilfred Mugeyi at 22 and then a South African, Pollen Ndlanya, comes at third position with 21. The highest scorer in one season remains the phenomenal former Kaizer Chiefs striker Fani Madida, who netted 34 goals back in 1991. Thirty years later, we still do not have a match for Madida’s feat and lately, the highest goal scorer can win the award with 10 goals in a season. By international standards, our local goal average per player, per season, is underwhelming to say the least.
It is clear that our football – once upon a time proud tradition – has lost its way and is in deep structural and systemic crisis at different levels of the game. And therefore, the coach even with the best intentions and ideas, is not likely to succeed.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
We need to appreciate the fact that the responsibility to uplift our football does not lie with SAFA or the PSL alone. And these two organisations, need to open up more for help in our national interest. They are custodians and we, the people, are the owners of football. We have already established football as a force for good and great instrument for nation-building, social cohesion, as well as international prestige.
If South Africa can perform excellently and consistently at an international level, the spotlight will certainly turn on our country and we will attract a lot of good things such as improving the football economy, new development partnerships, and it will become easier to attract investment because; Bafana Bafana would be the greatest ambassador for all of us.
First, we need to renew the leadership of football. This is probably the biggest struggle and requires a lot of courage, time, and energy. And of course, in the context of South Africa, sports or football leadership is unnecessarily over-politicised. More importantly, the managerial and ideational leadership, requires a serious reboot.
Secondly, the institutional arrangements between the football fraternity, government, business, civil society and the youth, requires a big shake up. The South African football scene does not lack talent, infrastructure, money, or goodwill. The problem is that most of the resources are not dedicated to youth development, the pipeline – the most important layer. Legitimacy will come from the youth who will renew their belief in football as soon as we place their interests at the heart of the game.
The other issue that requires serious change, is the excessive autonomy that sports of national interest enjoy in the country. The powers and roles must be more dispersed across the various role players. If the institutional arrangements can be properly reviewed and aligned, we can achieve a lot more. And if we need legislative intervention for compliance, then we must do so. Nothing must be off-limits. We cannot continue to have a handful of people thinking they have a right to embarrass 55 million people.
Thirdly, we need a fully structured national school league to match the university one. And there must be deliberate efforts to keep, trace and track, and account for the best upcoming talent in the system, with clear consequence management. Some of these ideas are contained in the SAFA Development Agency concept by the way.
The distribution of resources – financial, physical, human, knowledge etcetera – is not well coordinated because there is no coherent structure to follow from local to national. And the confidence of sponsors in football is weakening and increasingly non-committal.
These suggestions are not everything or a panacea. But we need to have the courage to hold the bull by its horns. If football is a sport of national interest, then we must all dirty our hands and rebuild it. It’s a call to national duty and the space must open up or like Che Guevara, we force it to open!
Coach Broos needs the back end and the foundation in order to succeed. The duty to rebuild Bafana is not with coach Broos but SAFA. Anywhere in the world, building for the future is for the football association. Through experience, we know we have the potential to be the best in the world, but we keep letting our narrow sectional interests frustrate this great potential. If we do not do change course now, we will remain in a permanent trance of hypnotism!
David Maimela is Executive Director of The Polisee Space, a pan-African public policy think-tank.