It was in the cold Norwegian city of Oslo that I first learnt how badly Moeneeb Josephs cherishes a starting berth in Bafana Bafana.
That week, in October 2009, it was unclear who between Josephs and Emile Baron would start in goal in the friendlies against Norway and Iceland. On the Thursday, Joel Santana, the then Bafana coach, made his decision – he was going for Baron.
Santana’s decision so badly affected Josephs that he refused to grant us interviews, even though he had been scheduled to speak to the press that day. Close to tears and shaking his head, he told the Bafana media officers he would not speak, turning down interview requests from an SA media contingent of just two people, myself included.
We found his behaviour flabbergasting, for in a foreign country, you would expect that Bafana players show some openness to their own.
The following day, on the eve of the match, Baron failed a fitness test and was a non-starter. It meant Josephs, who presumably had cried himself to sleep, had to play. Not only did he play the full game at Oslo, he was also in goal for what proved to be Santana’s final match, against Iceland at Reykjavik.
While SA lost both games, Josephs acquitted himself well, making tremendous saves, but there’s no doubt that he had polluted his mind with negativity prior to Baron’s misfortune.
It can only be that negative mind that prompted the Orlando Pirates keeper’s retirement from international football this week. We are indebted to Benni McCarthy for making public the real reasons, and it is clear they centre around the fact that Itumeleng Khune is the preferred No1 at Bafana.
At 32, Josephs obviously feels he should have had more than the 22 caps he’s accumulated over nine years of international football. Aside from the 2008 African Nations Cup in Ghana, where he played all three games, there hasn’t been a time when he totally called the Bafana number one spot his.
But the nature of the goalkeeping position is that only gross howlers necessitate constant rotation. It has not been the case with Khune and, even though the team struggled in recent years, the Kaizer Chiefs man has remained consistent. In the six continental qualifiers that Bafana played between 2010 and 2011, Khune conceded in just one match – the 2-1 defeat against Niger in Niamey.
Those who were at Freetown for the away leg clash against Sierra Leone tell a story of a Bafana side saved single-handedly by Khune.
Khune, as we can expect, is not infallible and commits errors. No ’keeper is immune from the occasional howler, but a mistake could never be sufficient basis for a rotation policy.
Thus Josephs has advanced the flimsiest reason for his decision (the unconvincing statement wherein he stated he was forced to quit due to family commitments is a pathetic PR exercise) – the fear of coming second best. Even some of the world’s greatest goalkeepers, from Pepe Reina to Jens Lehmann, had to play second fiddle in their national teams and locally, Brian Baloyi watched more games from the sidelines than he played.
Josephs allowed himself to be ruled by emotion rather than apply basic logic. But with Bafana facing a tough programme which includes World Cup qualifiers and the Nations Cup next year, there’s little doubt that they can do with his experience. And that doesn’t mean he has to play – here’s a man who’s been to the Nations Cup and World Cup, so surely he can show other guys the way.
I have no doubt Josephs is mature enough to realise that his decision doesn’t help his own image – already, it has the ring of Nasief Morris’s sulking on the eve of the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup, when he demanded to know if he’ll start ahead of either Aaron Mokoena or Matthew Booth.
That sulking proved to be the death knell of Morris’s international career, an act for which he was remembered rather than the excellent display he gave in a Bafana shirt. Josephs should show that he’s a bigger man and rescind a senseless decision that many suspect might not even entirely be his.
Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng