Cape Town - Football in South Africa finds itself at a turning point. It’s a point where decisive action has to be taken with regard to the future improvement, or continued failure, of Bafana Bafana.
Fortuitously, though, the latest events have conspired to give the sport’s administrators a nudge in the right direction.
There was much mirth when a number of Bafana regulars withdrew from coach Gordon Igesund’s original squad for friendlies against Australia and New Zealand.
But the young players who stepped into the void did the country proud in a 1-1 draw against the World Cup-bound Socceroos in Sydney last Monday - and they then turned in another committed showing in a 0-0 draw with the All Whites of New Zealand in Auckland on Friday.
While results against these two countries may not be reason for major celebration, they are cause for optimism. What this Bafana squad did on the Australasia trip was to restore pride to the South African football jersey.
In January, earlier this year, in the aftermath of the ultimate humiliation for the country, when Bafana crashed out of the low-key African Nations Championship (CHAN), South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan was scathing in his comments.
“The players need to understand the honour and pride that goes with playing for the national team,” said Jordaan at the time.
“They need to stop worrying about how much they are going to be paid. They worry too much about the bank manager in their head and less about winning the trophy. I don’t think the players understand what it means to put on the South African jersey.”
Yet, on this trip, that desire was clearly evident, as attested to by Bafana striker on tour, Bournemouth’s Tokelo Rantie: “The guys are hungry, some of these guys received their call-ups for the first time... but they’re more hungry than the guys who’ve been in the squad in the past.”
And, in those brutally honest words, Rantie laid bare the root of the Bafana problem.
Too many of the usual suspects in the squad have become complacent - the “big fish in a small pond” mentality. As talented as they are, they are content to play in the local PSL and, in so doing, fail to better their game.
Rantie went on to unpack Bafana’s plight even more: “I’ve been telling the guys here that they have to go to Europe, so that we know we have a powerful national team.
“If you look at other countries, a player can go to Europe at the age of 17 and then when we play against them, we can’t match them because they are getting all the training, all the necessary assistance in Europe.”
Jordaan’s question back in January was: “At Bafana, it would seem there is no end to a player. What about the next generation of South African footballers?”
Last week, with players like Itumeleng Khune, Teko Modise, Bernard Parker, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Tsepo Masilela and others all withdrawing, it allowed the opportunity for emerging youngsters like Ayanda Patosi, Bongani Zungu and Thulani Serero to take centre stage and prove there is a “next generation”.
It just requires the will to implement an approach based on youth, rather than be forced into it because of withdrawals.