Coach Shakes Mashaba jokingly asked Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille to organise him a bottle of wine to deal with the backlash of the Bafana Bafana squad announcement this past Friday for next month’s African Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Mashaba knew there were going to be a few questions and eyebrows raised after he left out a few overseas-based players, who most people thought would be certainties for the clashes away to Sudan and at home to Nigeria.
Ajax Amsterdam star Thulani Serero’s absence was the biggest talking point as Mashaba overhauled the Bafana squad with a plethora of fresh faces and new caps.
The Bafana coach was hard-pressed to explain why he left out Serero, who had a breakthrough campaign in the Netherlands last season, and stumbled a bit when he tried to convince the full press-conference room of his thinking.
“Serero has not featured in the plans up to know. We will consider him.” That was the first reason the new Bafana coach offered when quizzed about Serero’s absence.
“The criteria is current form.” That was the next reason.
“You can’t duplicate the players in one position. If you have got Serero, there can’t be another player there. To have him, then maybe a Jali shouldn’t be there.” That was reason No 3.
And finally: “It’s not a question of playing better, there could be some tactical things we are looking at. I don’t want to go deep into that, but that is what we are thinking.”
So which one is it really?
Common sense suggests that it’s not one of the above-mentioned “excuses” Mashaba offered on Friday.
It seems that the new Bafana coach wanted to make a statement by leaving Serero and other overseas-based players like May Mahlangu and Daylon Classen out of the squad.
Serero is arguably South Africa’s best available player in Europe after Steven Pienaar retired from international football. But the former Ajax Cape Town prodigy has had a few run-ins with Safa, and was last year sent home from the Bafana camp before a World Cup qualifier against Botswana when Gordon Igesund was still in charge of the side.
Mashaba and Igesund had a few meetings after he was appointed the new coach, and the issue of Serero would have come up.
Mashaba has in the past shown a reluctance to choose overseas-based players who aren’t fully committed to the Bafana cause. And his new assistant coach Owen da Gama certainly hinted that passion and commitment for Bafana are going to be part of the selection criteria going forward.
“The biggest thing is to create competition and to make sure nobody holds a gun to Safa’s head. It’s going to be about patriotism and the willingness to come and play,” Da Gama said after the squad announcement. “As much as we need the overseas players, they also need us.”
But can they afford to leave a player of the calibre of Serero out after making a few bold selections for his first two assignments? Only time will tell, as Mashaba got rid of some of the deadwood and picked a young and inexperienced squad, which even includes promising 17-year-old Ajax Cape Town defender Rivaldo Coetzee.
The selection, Mashaba said, was based on the South African Football Association’s “2022 vision” for the Fifa World Cup in Qatar.
“Selection was controlled by Safa’s vision, the 2022 vision. From now until 2022 … we had to take into consideration the age-group that we needed in the team,” Mashaba said.
But the South African public are fickle and expect a good result whenever the national team play. And Mashaba admitted that he couldn’t just focus on building a team for the future, but that he needs to qualify for next year’s Afcon in Morocco, as well as other tournaments.
“The president (Danny Jordaan) said there is no pressure, but everybody loves a winner. Yes, we might be restructuring a new team for 2022, but at the same time we need to deliver the results,” the coach said.
Hopefully Mashaba won’t need a lot of wine before then. - Cape Times