Former Bafana Bafana players Helman Mkhalele and Linda Buthelezi say Sports and Recreation minister Fikile Mbalula was wrong to criticise the national team players in public.

Mbalula labelled Gordon Igesund’s men “a bunch of losers” and “a disgrace” at a press conference in Cape Town on Monday following their first round exit at the African Nations Championship.

Mkhalele agrees with what the minister said, but says he should have said the exact same words behind closed doors with the players.

“All the things the minister said were true,” Mkhalele said, “but I would have chosen a better way to tell the players. I would do it behind close doors. The very same thing he said he should have said it in the dressing room because saying something like can break the players mentally.

“When he said those things I started thinking about the families and wives of the players and the impact it would have on them. Some of these players are involved in certain projects and now their images have been damaged.

“We are hurting from what happened. This is the right time to sit down, take a deep breath and start assessing the situation. We need to have a proper plan to take us out of the mess.”

Mkhalele blamed Igesund’s tactics in Bafana Bafana’s 3-1 loss to Nigeria that booted them out of the competition many felt the national team could actually win.

“Against Nigeria tactically he (Igesund) made mistakes. That can happen and it can cost you.

“The players also did not look motivated. They did not seem to have confidence, in themselves and in the team.”

Buthelezi is another who was disappointed by the comments made by Mbalula in public.

“Let’s be honest, it’s not on. The way he spoke, one would say it’s a democratic country. He has the right to say what he feels.

“But I think as a builder and a leader, there is another platform, where you sit down with the team and they analyse what the situation is.

“Many players don’t want to hear such things. They can get discouraged. I would have expected as a positive person like him that he would lash out internally.”

Buthelezi feels Mbalula’s comments will decrease players’ chances of moving abroad.

“You need to make the players wake up, but don’t tell the outside world. We expect a minister to sell our product (football).

“He must be careful about what he has said because that will decrease players’ chances of going overseas. It’s gone out to the world that South African players are mediocre. Nobody will look at us because it has been said by him that our players are useless. You can ask agencies, it will be difficult for them to sell players abroad.”

The former defensive midfielder went on to say that South African players need to start playing with passion to give the nation hope for the future.

“Players must pull up their socks and focus on their soccer careers.

“I wish all players would have the passion to actually play this game and be successful. And if they do that they won’t be criticised.

“They must love the game, play with aggression and togetherness. That will bring the glory, something that will make the whole country smile.

“Then things will never fall apart, for the benefit of fans.” - The Star