Banyana coach revels in team’s success
Not even a face mask can hide the huge smile on Desiree Ellis’s face.
Sitting in her office at Safs house in Johannesburg, which overlooks the famous Soccer City , Ellis is beaming with pride at her latest major scalp with Banyana Banyana.
The 57-year-old landed in Johannesburg this week, after leading the women's national team to yet another Cosafa Women’s Championship in Port Elizabeth over the weekend.
Her troops defeated Botswana 2-1 in the final of the tournament to clinch the cup, making it four Cosafa Women’s Championships in a row for the Cape Town born coach.
Ellis is overjoyed.
“If I pulled off my mask, you’d be able to properly see the huge smile on my face,” Ellis says as she giggles away.
While the team's victory over the past weekend is worth a huge celebration, Ellis and her team had a fairly low-key celebratory dinner, she says.
“We practically did nothing,” says Ellis. “We organised a braai. We are very particular about what the players eat on camp. I asked the doctor, irrespective of what happens with the result, can the players have a braai? I also asked if they could enjoy ice cream as a treat, which they did.
“We had a nice meal and then left the players to do what they wanted to do afterwards. I think our opponents celebrated more than us, because they made it to a final.
Football fans in the country had doubts over whether Banyana could once again win the Cosafa Championships due to a largely inexperienced team this year, Ellis certainly wasn't one of them.
“We are always challenging ourselves,” says Ellis.
“When you go to a tournament or a match, you want to make sure you set your goals. Any team that competes in a tournament wants to win it and we are no different.
“We had a new group this year. We always say we have to conquer our zone first before we try and conquer the rest of Africa, and that's exactly what we have done.”
“The players put in a lot of hard work, and they didn’t have a lot of time to prepare due to Covid-19, so I’m really proud of this group.”
The squad was largely unfamiliar, with only six players returning from the squad who won the 2019 Cosafa edition.
They also didn’t have Banyana overseas-based big name players. However the young players Ellis picked proved their worth and continued from where the senior players left off.
“The players put in a lot of hard work in a short amount of time, so huge credit goes to them. But it’s also the behind the scenes work that nobody sees.”
“The analysts' analysis of the opposition and giving us as much information on the opposition was a huge help. The assistant coach did outstanding work with the team too.
“It’s a combination of a whole lot of things . The medical team made sure that our squad was fit and firing and made sure the recoveries were spot on. Because we played in similar tournaments before, we more or less know how it works and we listen to players.
“With us being inactive for seven months, it was always going to be difficult, because there was a lot of rustiness and a little tiredness . It's understandable though.”
Banyana’s win at the Cosafa Championships was made even more impressive considering their planning was hugely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The team had very little time to get ready for this year's major tournament.
“The situation was the same for everyone, even though some countries started training earlier.
“We only went into camp on the 20th of October. We had sent out training programs for individuals during the strict lockdown, but it's not the same when you train on your own. You got to train in a team environment, so that was a challenge.”
“Covid also helped in a way that some players were able to get some rest. So it was good and bad for the team.”
“Individual training was difficult though. At times I just felt like laying in my bed. Imagine what the players felt like.
“We divided the team into three groups, so each coach could have personal interaction with the players. Mentoring the players was a challenge but we had to try our best. We tried to stick together as much as possible.”
Ellis has also won a Cosafa Championship as a player some years back, making her a five time winner of the tournament. In her capacity as a coach she has also led the team to a World Cup as well as an Olympic Games.
She says her tenure as coach of Banyana Banyana has been a dream come true, and something she never imagined achieving in such a short space of time.
“It’s been an amazing experience. When you play as a footballer you think you can play forever but it’s not possible, and then you get into coaching, something you dream of, but not even in my wildest imagination could I have thought I would have achieved all of this.”
“Just winning one trophy and going to a World Cup was a huge achievement, but all of this is just something else.”
“I’ve got to say thank you to the players for all the work they have put in over the years. When everybody is on holiday in December and we have a game in January, they are busy training , so all the efforts they put in is worth it.
Her hugely successful tenure at Banyana Banyana has come at a personal cost however. The 57-year-old has had to make many sacrifices in order to achieve what she has with the team.
One of the biggest sacrifices was having to move away from her family in Cape Town to Johannesburg.
“That's one big sacrifice. But I know that it’s just a flight away or a very long drive away.
“My mother is a prayer warrior so I know she’s always praying for the team and the players, and the whole church she belongs to is doing the same.
“My family is very proud though .I’m sure my late father is looking down from above with pride in his heart. He didn’t get to see me playing professionally for South Africa or be a coach, so that's a bit hard to take, but my brothers and sister are all very proud of me.”
“I have a sister who lives in Australia who stayed up in the wee hours of the morning to live stream the game. I have a very supportive family and am very blessed.”
While all is set in place for Banyana Banyana to continue on the path of success, Ellis hopes that more corporate companies come on board to support the national womens team in their goal of becoming a dominant force in world football. Sasol is their only sponsor.
“I am extremely happy and full of gratitude to Sasol. They used to sponsor the under-23 men's team and they then got involved in women's football. We have the Sasol league, that includes 144 teams countrywide in nine provinces, but we are always urging more corporates to come on board, because we can’t achieve everything we want to with just one sponsor. Imagine what we could do if we had more sponsors.”
Asked if she believed Banyana Banyana should get paid the same amount of money as their male counterparts, Bafana Bafana, Ellis said: “I don't deal with those things. I have a technical role. My job is to prepare them and make sure the team performs well. I leave all the other stuff to the administrators who deal with that kind of stuff.
“But I always tell the players that their performances will set them apart from everyone else, and if they continue to perform, they will get their rewards .”