There was a time – a lifetime ago, it seems – when South Africa and Brazil shared five goals in a Nelson Mandela Challenge match. Bafana Bafana even had the temerity to lead the then world champions 2-0 at half-time, raising hopes of a massive upset.
It didn’t happen then, but there was honour in defeat to a team which had Bebeto, Dunga, Cafu and a young Rivaldo pulling the midfield strings. There was hope that Bafana, themselves continental champions, could rise and at least compete in the exalted company that Brazil kept.
Nearly 20 years on and that hope has been extinguished emphatically. Wednesday’s bloodbath at Soccer City was yet more evidence that Bafana, and indeed our football structure as a whole, needs urgent revolution.
The suits at Safa, led by the increasingly questionable Danny Jordaan, were given fresh ammunition to tear up the play-book and start afresh. They acknowledged this, yet again, and resolved to do something about it.
We’ve heard all of this before, and not only from Jordaan. Safa have made a point of marking low points such as this with sweeping statements of intent, all of which have consistently produced as much as our national team did on Wednesday night. Sweet F.A.
Still we wait for the ground-breaking, world-class Hoy Park Academy that Messrs Jordaan and Mbalula raved about in Durban last year, to start taking shape. In the absence of leadership and accountability, it falls on the philanthropic efforts of Patrice Motsepe, for example, to try and cajole our football from its comatose state.
The R40 million that he has invested into the third tier of South African football ought to be money made available by Safa, who ought to be flush, thanks to the World Cup legacy fund.
It could have been made available from the television billions that the PSL have. But, like most of our football administrators, the PSL and its clubs are concerned only with the top layer, forgetting that they need the structures below them to stay healthy.
Brazil didn’t trounce Bafana with a grizzled Dunga, a crocked Rivaldo or an over-the-hill Cafu. They unleashed a new generation of stars, players who are discovered in the favelas and polished like the gems that they promise to deliver for the national team.
South Africa has natural talent of its own. It may not be as abundant as in Brazil, Argentina and other football goldmines, but it is certainly there. What we lack are the structures to take these rough diamonds out of their circumstances, and give them a real shot at success.
Watching the proceedings in the company of enthusiastic, inebriated and patriotic supporters in a Durban watering hole, it was clear that a sense of helplessness has enveloped all thoughts of our national football team.
By the time the fifth goal flew past a helpless Ronwen Williams, the embarrassment was so acute that the patrons were begging for the final whistle, and baying for coach Gordon Igesund’s head.
Had Brazil come here with a bunch of locally-based unknowns, that logic might have made sense. But only three of the visitors’ squad play their football at home. The rest of them, the Neymars, the Hulks, the Alves and the Fernandinhos all dominate our TV screens on a weekly basis, in the English and Spanish leagues.
The time for feeble excuses is over. Igesund and Jordaan, and the rest of their cronies, must relieve themselves of their duties if they cannot deliver on the promises they made when signing their lucrative contracts.
The five-goal slap South African football received this week ought to be yet another wake-up call. But don’t hold your breath. – Sunday Independent