Another international break is about to be concluded and the South Africa national team’s woes have further worsened.
On Friday night, Bafana Bafana’s Fifa 2018 World Cup hopes ended following a 2-0 defeat to Senegal. What started out as a week of optimism is now ending on a whimper as Bafana are set to face off against the Lions of Teranga in a proverbial dead-rubber on Tuesday night.
But while Bafana go in search of a much-needed confidence boost, many South African football fans are questioning the future of the national team as the last time SA successfully qualified for a World Cup was back in 2002.
Nonetheless, in the aftermath of Bafana’s unsuccessful qualifying campaign, journalist Yusuf Variava sat down with Goal South Africa editor Ignat Manjoo, who shared his thoughts and frustrations over Bafana’s most recent low.
YV: It has been another difficult week for South African football, what are your thoughts on Bafana’s latest failure?
IM: I believe we need to take a wider perspective. Argentina scraped through to Russia in their last game and were so close from not making it. I was amazed by that possibility. Last night (Monday), Italy joined the surprising list of failures. I think it's the first time in my life this has occurred. However, I'm most surprised that the United States failed. That's the biggest shock considering how weak their region is, because in my opinion it's much tougher to qualify in Africa.
YV: Go on…
IM: So, we must realise how difficult it is to qualify for a World Cup. The likes of Morocco shows us that it's not about which team is stronger on paper or famous (Ivory Coast), you need to raise your game and prove that you're the best over six games. I'm not surprised SA didn't make it because we were not the best in that group on paper in terms of our players, and we were not the best on the field either. If you look at the value of the Senegal team, their starting line-up is about 10 times higher in transfer value. That alone shows what a marked difference there is in quality. This Senegal team is better than many European teams that qualified. So, it's not surprising that we go huffing and puffing at Senegal's goal but can't hit the net once, and they just waltz by occasionally, but with their quality they blew our house down.
YV: But surely heads need to roll after such a disappointment. Who do you think is to blame?
IM: Baxter was always up against it, but ultimately he played four World Cup qualifiers and lost three. That is pathetic no matter how you look at it. Three of those four were at home. Two were against Cape Verde. In that string of results, we might want to look back at the Burkina Faso result and state, 'Wow, look how well we played there. Let's give him a chance’. Are our standards that low? That's how a relegation team thinks. Even though, I said it's okay we didn't qualify, it would be a disgrace to finish last in the group.
YV: Understood, but do you believe that Stuart Baxter can still be the right man for the job and turn things around?
IM: Honestly, I'm not confident with Baxter as coach. It's not just the recent results, I've criticized his selection even for 2006. I think Stuart has proven he's a brilliant coach in the PSL. He hasn't proven it at international level yet. When you expect a coach to beat top African nations to World Cup qualification, then you got to bring someone in that can create a masterplan, not just for one game but for years. Hardly anyone's doing that in Africa. We could've appointed Herve Renard or Carlos Queiroz but it wasn't made clear why we failed to bring either of those two in.
YV: How do you think failing to qualify for next year’s World Cup will impact on the South African Football Association’s (Safa) Vision 2022 considering it is only five years away?
IM: I don't want to say too much about Vision 2022 now, because I've written my opinion about it in editorials a few times before. Just to add that every nation has a vision for the future and many nations are improving remarkably, especially in Africa. Just because we have a vision on paper, doesn't mean we suddenly have to be the best in Africa. If finances dictated qualification then the Arabian nations would be one of the World Cup favourites. It doesn't work like that in internationals. We talk about improving Safa, but there's many football associations around the world that are doing a poor job, but at the end of the day it's their players and coaches who take them to the World Cup. Hungry, talented players are born without politicians and they can develop on the dusty roads in the worst conditions. That's another story.
The strengh of North Africa: Renard qualified Morocco
YV: But what is the way forward? We’ve seen many times before, that after a failed qualifying campaign there is always talk of ridding the national team of the dead wood and looking to build the squad around promising youngsters, is that the way to go?
IM: In terms of the players I believe (other than the Cape Verde games) we've done well to match teams who are superior to us and we've been stepping up for years now, under Gordon Igesund, Shakes Mashaba and for the Nigeria game with Baxter, we've shown that we can match the best in Africa. By matching I mean we're not embarrassed then, but we need to learn to raise our game against the so-called easiest teams in our groups, like Cape Verde and Mauritania. Most of our players are just PSL standard, we're gaining experience in Caf and I have to praise the players for pulling their weight. You can't ask them to play like Leo Messi, so we are performing as a team. Let’s face it we don't have top players in Europe. We rave about the likes of Keagan Dolly but the truth is that our top players in Europe are barely making an impact even at the smaller clubs, so that even when they return for Bafana they're not fit anymore. We have to face reality. Our players have a long way to go to match the African stars from the North of this continent.
YV: Speaking about promising players, prior to the clash in Polokwane much has been said about Thulani Serero’s snub. Do you feel that his actions were justified or is this the end of his national team career in your opinion?
IM: Just after praising our local players, Thulani Serero's attitude typifies the most embarrassing behaviour in this country. We fail as a nation when the supporters didn't fill the stadium for the Burkina Faso home game. People say that the team must inspire the supporters. It is the supporters who must support the team. I've said this many times. That's what it means to be a supporter. To support. It is a sad state of affairs for players to come on social media and beg the fans to come to the stadium. This is the same poor understanding that we have from Serero. He has no idea what it means to play for your country. Are we educating our players and supporters on this objective? Even if you don't take the field, you should be like a supporter and support your nation from the bench. I would be proud to sit on that bench and wear our country's colours, to sing the national anthem from the bench or stadium. You have to support your teammates even if you think you're better than them. I believe Serero has to apologize and change his attitude, otherwise there's no place for players like him in international football.
Yesterday he came out and stated that he rather sit on his sofa than on the bench, because it breaks his confidence. That is a mark of weakness. I've seen many great players sit on the bench in international football, even after finishing top scorer in the Premier League. They handle that hurt professionally and give their best as a substitute in 15 minutes or so. Then they go back to club football and do the business.
YV: Finally, I think the question on everyone’s mind is what’s next for Bafana?
IM: So, we can now focus on qualifying for the Afcon (2019 Africa Cup of Nations). You will notice quite often that different nations qualify for the continental tournament than the World Cup. It doesn't mean you're suddenly superior to other nations. It's just that the pressure is higher for World Cup qualification because team's put so much more into it. During the Afcon qualification a few teams tend to experiment a little, so that is why we have a better chance there. We need a good run to regain our confidence. With Bafana Bafana you got to take it one step at a time and live in the now. The U17 and other junior teams work with long term visions. That's obvious. Hopefully Safa will realise that soon.