at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Johannesburg - Dean Furman could just as easily have been shovelling snow off his driveway this week, like many of his Oldham Athletic teammates are doing on the outskirts of Manchester.
In the heart of winter, the north-west of England is not the most hospitable of places, and Furman’s club has been asking for volunteers to put in shifts to help clear the snow off Boundary Park before their next game.
A world away, in Durban, Furman and his Bafana teammates have been basking in the afterglow of a 2-0 win over Angola that finally got the host nation enthused about the Afcon 2013 tournament.
After weeks of insipid displays ahead of the tournament, that left the masses wondering whether they should even bother believing in coach Gordon Igesund’s revolution, Bafana finally repaid the faith.
With every touch of the ball, Furman was greeted by ever ascending cheers. When he shot at goal, the Moses Mabhida Stadium held its breath, desperate to celebrate a new, working-class hero.
The 24-year-old Furman was quick to acknowledge the crowd in the aftermath of Wednesday’s much-needed win, but the 50 000 crowd at Moses Mabhida Stadium was even quicker to voice their appreciation for his industry.
“It was great to play in my first competitive game for the team. The crowd was just getting louder and louder and it really inspired us.
“It was massive for me personally, and the team are just buzzing,” he said with a boyish grin moments after the win.
What he lacks in skill and size, the midfield terrier more than makes up for in terms of effort and enthusiasm. Snapping away at everything that moved in midfield, Furman was the personification of Bafana’s transformation after the underwhelming opener against Cape Verde.
Even when he was on all fours, he was still winning headers, making a yard for the team. Local fans, who had bemoaned the axing of Andile Jali from the squad at the expense of workhorses, were forced into a rethink after Furman’s Duracell display.
Cultured player that Jali is, he simply hasn’t shown the engine and the speed of thought to cope with international football. It is the same disease that keeps several PSL stars from moving abroad.
The extra touch that they are so fond of allows defences to reorganise and shut down counter-attacks in their infancy.
While Furman plays in the lesser tiers of English football, the pace he is accustomed to is just as frenetic as the Premiership, if not more so. In the modern era of congested midfields, his snappy service is a priceless commodity.
Trained at Chelsea, under current Liverpool boss Brendan Rogers as a youngster, Furman is already being touted as a potential signing for bigger clubs. After all, the Cup of Nations has long been used by Europe’s elite as an expo for Africa’s emerging talent at knock-down prices.
“I am not even thinking about that sort of thing. It’s just one game and my only focus is on the team getting as far as we can in this tournament,” he maintained.
Whatever the critics may level at Igesund, Furman has certainly been one of the success stories of his short tenure.
He is the antithesis of the modern footballer, unflashy, unflustered and not shy of a tackle.
Interestingly, Furman has inherited a number that carries much weight among fans.
The number 15 jersey was popularised by Doctor Khumalo, the midfield maestro who tormented visiting defences during the 1996 edition of the Cup of Nations.
“Oh no, I didn’t choose this number. I was just handed a jersey and took it,” Furman explained quickly.
By chance or by choice, Furman’s display in that iconic “15” has won him many new fans that will be eager to see him carry on from where he left off in tonight’s game against Morocco.
There will be bigger challenges such as the man-mountains that inhabit Ivory Coast and Nigerian midfields, should Bafana wade into the unpredictable, yet exhilarating waters of the final four.
But Furman, like his rejuvenated teammates, has been quick to welcome the challenge. After all, the warm embrace of a packed stadium beats shovelling snow any day of the week.