Ed Aarons wonders if the 2010 hosts are making the right preparations on the pitch for next June...It’s the nature of South African football that things never run smoothly.
With less than eight months to go until the global spotlight falls on Bafana Bafana, the World Cup hosts decided last week that it was time to bring to an end the disastrous reign of Brazilian Joel Santana and replace him with compatriot Carlos Alberto Parreira.
South Africa Football Association’s (SAFA) decision to reappoint the man who led his country to their fourth World Cup title in 1994 has provoked a national debate.
The vast majority, fed up with a run of eight defeats in nine matches under the hapless Santana, were adamant that the new coach had to be a South African. Given that Parreira actually recommended his successor after his wife fell ill last April, you can understand why they were so concerned.
“SAFA might think Parreira gives us the best opportunity to do well next year but I wouldn’t agree,” Clive Barker, perhaps the best man to judge having led the country to African Nations Cup glory in 1996, told Goal.com.
"I would have liked to see a local coach given the chance and I think Gavin Hunt would be the best choice. His record is there for all to see - he’s won two PSL titles in a row for Supersport United and I think he would adapt well to international level.”
Clive Barket Wanted To Go Local
Barker added: “The key to international management is being able to motivate the players that you are working with and Gavin is a master of that.”
Hunt is likely to be brought into the camp as an assistant in a move that is meant to groom him to take over the reins next year, especially given that SAFA president Kirsten Nematandani guaranteed the next manager will definitely be a South African.
For now, though, Bafana fans are stuck with Parreira and having led Brazil to their fourth World Cup back in 1994, he certainly has an impressive pedigree.
But dig a little bit deeper though and things are not so clear-cut. Sacked by Fluminense in the summer after just four months in charge, the 66-year-old was also in charge of his country at the last World Cup as a talented squad featuring Ronaldinho in his prime were knocked out at the quarter-final stage.
Nonetheless, he can at least be expected to perform better than the hapless Santana, who became a figure of fun during his 18-month stint in charge.
Barker said: “I don’t want to judge how difficult it was for him but any coach that can’t speak the language was always going to have a problem.
"I’m relieved that he’s gone because I know how frustrating it must have been for the players. To be told off by an interpretor rather than the man who is meant to be in charge must have made it very difficult for them and it’s little wonder that he didn’t have much of an effect.”
If anyone in the South Africa could have afforded a little smile at Santana’s demise then it would have been Nasief Morris. He was an ever-present last season for Recreativo de Huelva in La Liga before moving to Racing Santander in the close season.
Despite being the only Bafana player in one of the toughest leagues in the world, Morris found himself out of the international frame. But having featured in almost every match during Parreira’s first stint in charge, he unsurprisingly welcomed his appointment.
“We were doing well with Parreira before he left and you could see that results were improving steadily,” Morris told Goal.com.
“It’s not for me to say whether it should be a local coach in charge – all I want is to be back there and to represent my country again. The main thing is the experience that Parreira has in international football which is only going to help the team.
Morris All Smiles
"He knows everything about the players so it won’t be that difficult for him to settle in – if it had been someone completely new then it may take time for him to get used to our style of football.”
Morris added: “We only have a few months to get it right now so it’s crucial we can progress quickly.”
As Bafana’s 15th coach in just 16 years since returning to the international stage, it’s clear how hard the job will be.
Alongside Hunt and the legendary Jomo Sono, Barker was part of the three man assessment team that presented their findings to SAFA before the announcement was made on Friday.
Unsurprisingly, the verdict was about as damning as you can get. “The side is lacking a lot of confidence at the moment and you can see that immediately,” admitted Barker.
“They looked like a boxer who has lost his last five fights and doesn’t believe they will ever be successful again. There were also a lot of technical issues that desperately needed to be addressed - South African players are naturally very confident and try to show off on the pitch but that wasn’t evident at all.”
He added: “That kind of confidence was crucial in the 1990s when we made a real impact on world football and rose from 90th in the world to as high as 17th by the end of the decade. Now we’re back to 85th so it’s been a complete reversal of fortunes and I think it’s crucial that we try to rediscover out own style of play.
"I’ve always said that if you try to copy Germany or Holland then we will never be able to do the same but if you play to what makes you good them you have a great opportunity to progress the game.”
So it’s back to square one for South Africa and their passionate supporters, who are desperate to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first World Cup hosts in history to be knocked out at the group stage next June.
According to Barker, there is still some hope.
He said: “It’s never too late to change things around - it was the same players who had lost so heavily in the early days of international football that managed to win the African Nations Cup in 1996.
"In the end, we were the envy of Africa because of the progress that was made. We need a strong character who can pick up this battered and bruised team and make them believe in themselves.
"Whoever takes over has to be able to instill a confidence among the players and make South Africans proud of their team again.”