The South African Football Association didn't fire Carlos Queiroz, they set him on fire, a fire that's burning brighter and brighter.

That's the frank view of Steve Komphela, the man who assisted new Real Madrid coach Queiroz during his tempestuous one and a half year stint as coach of Bafana Bafana.

Queiroz helped Bafana qualify for both the 2002 African Nations Cup and World Cup tournaments, but was then controversially sacked by Safa after a disappointing quarterfinals exit at the African Nations Cup in Mali.

"The statement that we fired Carlos Queiroz is an understatement. We did not fire him, we set him on fire, we ignited him. After leaving South Africa he went from one level to another. He helped Alex Ferguson win the championship. Now he's off to Real Madrid," said Komphela, who is now head coach at Manning Rangers.

The Safa hierarchy were tight-lipped on Wednesday about Queiroz's appointment at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Komphela clearly feels firing him was a mistake they will rue for a long time.

"It's unfortunate that we come to be judged by history while we're still alive. God's still going to judge some of us one day, but I am proud of Carlos. I am happy I worked with this great, very humble and very knowledgeable man," said Komphela.

Queiroz's sacking was one of the sorriest episodes in South African football history.

Many were of the opinion that the Safa knives were out for him in Mali and that some players were used to turn against him and sow division in the camp during the team's failed Nations Cup campaign.

At the time of Queiroz's Bafana sacking he had a record of nine wins, seven draws and four losses in his 20 games in charge, with two of those losses coming against Italy and Sweden.

He had previously been credited with unearthing Portugal's "golden generation" of players like Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Sergio Conceicao, Vito Baia and Joao Pinto, players with whom he twice won the World Youth Championships as coach in the late 1980s.

He was also senior national team coach of Portugal, Sporting Lisbon, the New York Metrostars and the J-League's Grampus Eight.

His time at the Bafana helm, however, came to a bitter end.

Two months after being fired by Safa, he was headhunted by Alex Ferguson to be his right-hand man at Manchester United, playing an important role in helping United regain the English Premiership title.

Komphela said he and Roger de Sa, who also assisted Queiroz with Bafana, were regarded as "Queiroz's sons". When Queiroz was sidelined, so, too, were they, as neither made it to the World Cup either.

"We were labelled as Queiroz's sons. I will forever remain a son of an objective, principled and correct man. We were left out of the squad that went to the World Cup, because of us supposedly being bad boys. You could be crucified for being the son of God, but you have to live with it because God was correct," said Komphela philosophically.

De Sa, who was the PSL Coach of the Season after guiding Wits to a record third spot in the league, said Queiroz was "the best person I've ever worked with in my life".

"He wasn't good enough for Bafana, but he's good enough for Manchester United and now Real Madrid. It's unbelievable. There must be a lot of people walking around with egg on their faces. The truth of the matter is that Carlos was far ahead of us. Unfortunately that's what it comes down to," said De Sa.

He felt Queiroz's axing was orchestrated. "It was planned. I blame some of the players. They know who they are. There was no reason to get rid of him. Carlos did not come here for the money. He came because he wanted to go to a World Cup. That's one thing he had never achieved," said de Sa.

He may not have done that with Bafana, but he's won some stunning consolation prizes. Now the likes of David Beckham, Figo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Raul and Zinedine Zidane await.