Johannesburg – This month marks a year since Gordon Igesund, on the back of popular support, began his tenure as Bafana Bafana coach and, as South Africa reflect on another failed shot at World Cup qualification, debate has raged over whether he’s brought about change in the national set-up.
Statistics from the past 12 months paint a positive picture for Igesund, albeit he didn’t meet two mandates set by his employers, the SA Football Association, when he took over from Pitso Mosimane last year.
Igesund has managed to win 11 out of 23 games, scoring a commendable 31 goals in the process. Under him, Bafana failed to score in eight matches, and the 0-0 draws which became a feature during Mosimane’s reign have been whittled down to just three, including a tough one against Zambia in the Cosafa Cup, which went into extra time and was won on penalties by the Chipolopolo.
The bulk of Igesund’s wins came on home soil, which is unsurprising given that in the past year Bafana played 14 times here.
Last week’s impressive 4-1 win over Botswana, however meaningless it was in the end, represents the highlight of the Igesund era. It was the first time Bafana had scored more than three goals in a match (they had last done so in pre-World Cup 2010 friendlies against Guatemala and Thailand, both of which were later found to have been fixed).
But in terms of official qualifiers, last week’s result against neighbouring Botswana marked Bafana’s biggest win in competitive games since 2008, when Joel Santana’s men similarly trounced Equatorial Guinea 4-1 at Atteridgeville.
While last week’s hammering of the Botswana Zebras was inconsequential, Igesund’s most significant win has to be the one against Angola in the Nations Cup this year. Bafana went into that game under a lot of pressure, having drawn against Cape Verde in the opening match. But Igesund demonstrated courage by making several changes in his line-up, and the result was a 2-0 win which was Bafana’s first in the continental finals since 2004. Bafana also managed to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time in a decade, losing out on penalties to Mali.
Although his home record remains impressive in spite of this week’s defeat to Zimbabwe, Igesund will have to get Bafana to improve on the road. Granted, his first two away matches were difficult trips to Brazil and Poland, where Bafana lost by a solitary goal in each.
But that they have played just six times on the road will not improve the national team. Also, aside from Brazil and Poland, Bafana have played generally weak teams away, such as Kenya and Lesotho. Winning on the road has been one of Bafana’s major weaknesses for years. The last time they won an official match away was against Chad in 2007 (the win over the Central African Republic in June was in Yaounde, a neutral venue).
To qualify for the 2015 Nations Cup, Igesund’s men will have to learn how to get points on the road. Getting nothing against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa in June has, ultimately, proven to be the main reason why Bafana are not going to Brazil.
For Bafana to improve, Igesund will also have to find stronger opposition because his men have been found wanting against tough sides, as demonstrated in the recent match against Nigeria. Whereas they were struggling to win under Mosimane, Bafana did beat the likes of Ghana and Egypt, and held Senegal and Ivory Coast to draws.
There can’t be any value in playing against Mozambique, a weakened Burkina Faso or Lesotho and, as his contract kicks into the second year, Igesund should seek stronger challenges for his charges.
But for a man who was tasked with learning on the job due to his lack of international experience, and handed a tough mandate, his record can’t be described as unsatisfactory.
EX-BAFANA PLAYERS’ VIEWS
(58 caps, 18 goals)
Gordon’s first 12 months were always going to be difficult given that he inherited a dispirited side. He couldn’t go in there and dismantle the whole set-up. He had to make do with the players he found there. Making his job even more difficult was the mandate Safa gave him, and Igesund would have needed a miracle to achieve it. I knew it was never going to materialise as it was unrealistic.
We didn’t do too badly in the Nations Cup, but going forward, Gordon must blood in younger players. He can start with the Chan (African Nations Championship). He deserves another chance, althoughultimately it’s up to the people at Safa. They need to learn that nothing happens overnight; it’s a process to get the national team to a world-class level.
You look at a team like Denmark, they stuck with the same coach for many years, and are now qualifying for tournaments.
Another thing that Safa must keep in mind is the fact that our junior national teams are not producing the talent. They haven’t qualified for anything in recent years, so you can’t expect miracles at the highest level.
Our play has improved immensely over the last year. We set up more scoring opportunities and got into the opposition more. Unfortunately, Gordon was always on the back foot when he got into the job, but I still believe he could have done better in the World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia. We scored first in that match and, with a bit of experience, we should have looked to close shop instead of chasing a second goal. Gordon could say we lost through a fortuitous own goal, but we could have applied ourselves better.
Going forward, Gordon must stay on. I don’t think he should make wholesale changes. You saw what happened against Zimbabwe. The spine of the team is there; (Itumeleng) Khune can go on for years, and we have Dean Furman in midfield. I’m more worried about central defence. I don’t think (Erick) Mathoho and (Thabo) Nthethe are adequate back-ups once Morgan Gould and Siyabonga Sangweni are out. Up front, we lack a big strong targetman, and Gordon should consider bringing Katlego Mphela back. I know Bernard Parker has been getting goals but he’s not an out-and-out striker.
We should not shy away from the fact that Gordon failed to meet his mandate, but he still made some progress. He didn’t have a lot of time after taking over. He still needed to adjust to life in international football.
Bafana played well in some games, but my biggest worry is that under Igesund, they won’t go too far because he doesn’t believe in young players. He doesn’t know how to use them – look at how badly he was exposed against Zimbabwe. His mentality is old players, old players. You can check his history at club level, he has never worked with young players.
If he continues like this, he won’t take us anywhere. But it’s not entirely his fault. Where are the junior sides? The likes of Benni McCarthy and Aaron Mokoena graduated into the senior team having played junior football. Today, over 90 per cent of Bafana players haven’t played at under-20 or under-23 levels. Gordon should also seek help from former professionals. You cannot succeed working alone, with no advice. When we won the Nations Cup in 1996, Clive Barker’s technical team had former players like Jomo Sono, Budgie Byrne and Phil Setshedi.