THE SHORT TERM
The most immediate dilemma facing the South African Football Association (Safa) is whether to stick or twist with Gordon Igesund at the helm of Bafana Bafana.
Igesund has been rightly hammered for his team selection and Bafana’s performances during the African Nations Championships (Chan), but overall he has not done too badly at Bafana’s helm.
Igesund won three of his four World Cup qualifiers, got Bafana to last year’s Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals, and there was also that friendly win over world champions Spain in November, however hard it is to read anything into a friendly. It is perfectly reasonable to argue that Igesund deserves a full qualifying campaign for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), before any decision on his future is made.
On the other hand, Safa president Danny Jordaan has never exactly gone out of his way to stick up for Igesund, and the feeling is that, while Igesund seems certain to lead the side in the March friendly against Brazil, the Safa executive may decide at a meeting next month to let the Bafana coach go, once his contract comes to an end in June. To sack Igesund before then would probably not be financially worth Safa’s while.
Jordaan’s penchant for foreign coaches may well then lead him to bring in another overseas “name”, with plenty likely to be available after the World Cup, including one Carlos Queiroz. Queiroz, who will be taking Iran to Brazil, was the last man to qualify South Africa for a World Cup, leaving before the finals in Japan and South Korea, thanks to a typically nasty dose of South African football politics. Could he really come back and pick up where he left off?
Whoever is in charge, the immediate task will be to manage to qualify Bafana for an Africa Cup of Nations tournament for the first time since Carlos Alberto Parreira got them to Ghana 2008 by the skin of their teeth.
To do this, Bafana will surely need all their best available players, meaning the first task of whoever is coach ought to be to persuade Ajax Amsterdam’s Thulani Serero out of the international wilderness. While Steven Pienaar’s retirement from international football is understandable, it is ludicrous that the next best current South African player is not taking the field for his country.
Another pertinent issue for Safa is to get an Under-23 side up and running once more, with the qualifiers for Rio 2016 set to take place next year. The Under-23 side have been defunct for some time now, and Safa badly need to put together some friendlies this year, if the side formerly known as Amaglug-glug (before Sasol pulled out) are to be properly prepared for Rio qualification.
THE LONG TERM
Danny Jordaan has spoken much about development, both before and since taking over the presidency of the South African Football Association last year.
And his ideas do seem sensible – to have national academies across all of South Africa’s provinces (“Rugby has the Sharks and the Cheetahs; where are the Sharks and Cheetahs of football?” Jordaan has asked); to vastly increase the number of youth level matches played on any given weekend in South Africa; to get many more coaches trained up to an acceptable standard.
Jordaan has already announced the opening of an academy in KwaZulu Natal worth R30 million over three years, and has expressed confidence he can bring the sponsors back into the national game, citing his weight of experience in working closely with Fifa on organising the World Cup.
Jordaan’s problem is that the current youth structures within South African football are pathetically disorganised. Never mind the national Under-23 side, the Under-17 side and Under-20 side also barely play.
South Africa have an awful record when it comes to succeeding in international youth tournaments.
It is no coincidence that the success of sides like Ghana and Nigeria at senior international level is mirrored by the achievements of their junior sides. Ghana, for example, won the 2009 World Under-20 championships and followed that up in 2010 by reaching the World Cup quarter-finals.
Then there is the problem below this level, in schools, where there are simply not the same structures to produce top quality players like there are in cricket and rugby – a clear curse of the legacy of apartheid.
And, of course, there are South African clubs. Ajax Cape Town can lay claim to have produced Steven Pienaar and Thulani Serero in recent years, but there are too few clubs that produce top class players, in some way borne out by Bafana’s poor performance at Chan. One can have all the provincial structures that one likes, but the main source of youth development in this country has to come from the clubs, and right now they are not doing it right.
Even that which is within Safa’s control – getting the provincial structures up, getting the national youth teams playing, coaching the coaches – this is very much a long-term plan, which is likely to go way beyond Jordaan’s term of presidency in terms of bearing fruit.
Safa would actually do well to place less emphasis on qualifying for the World Cup in 2018 and more on building a side over the next few years capable of challenging for qualification for Qatar 2022. If you took a squad of the best Under-20s in the country now, for example, and trained them up, taking them through all available youth tournaments, you could have an excellent core of 24- and 25-year-olds available when World Cup qualifying for Qatar starts in 2020. South Africa are so far down that the way back up is a long haul, with plenty of groundwork required.