CAPE TOWN - There's an insightful, old proverb that reads “an ounce of patience is worth a pound of brains”. It’s a perceptive, self-explanatory aphorism which thrusts to the kernel of a key issue that hampers the progress of South African football: Patience. Like everything else about this maddeningly frustrating country, it’s all about instant gratification. We want it, and we want it now.
So it is with the hire-and-fire culture in the PSL, with coaches coming and going with the regularity of a morning cup of coffee. Already, just a month into the season, Free State Stars have booted Sammy Troughton (after just two games in charge), Platinum Stars jettisoned Peter Butler (also two games) and, last week, it was the absurdly monotonous turn of Chippa United to do the usual, firing their coach, Dan Malesela, only three games into the new campaign.
And, no, this is not a new occurrence. It happens season after season. It’s the quick-fix approach - no patience with coaches, no time to implement philosophy. Clubs want it, and they want it now. Is this perhaps why it is that SA football continues to struggle at national level? Because what happens is PSL coaches become result-obsessed - and everything they do, and how they coach, is all geared towards the outcome, not the performance. In so doing, coaches are unable to really improve, develop and mature players. And so the PSL continues to churn out footballers consumed with the result, and forgetting to focus on technique and the overall betterment of both the individual and the team.
Let’s be honest, it is easy to coach no-risk, percentage football (ask Gordon Igesund, he’s been doing it for many years). Guaranteed, the team will be able to put together dour yet consistent results that keep them safe in the PSL. But it’s a helluva lot more difficult to coach a team to play attractive, entertaining football, that’s easy on the eye and wins regularly at the same time. Such an approach comes with risk, and most owners don’t have the time, the patience or the gumption for it.
So therein lies the rub: We all jump on the bandwagon when Bafana Bafana disappoint, but much of blame should also be directed at club bosses in the PSL; it is their quick-to-fire attitude, their lack of patience with coaches, which results in the staid, uninspired mentality of local footballers. Week after week, players are urged to be cautious, to be defensive, to rein in their natural, instinctive ability and creativity. And so, when they get to the national team, they know of no other way to play. In short, with coaches not allowed time and patience to inculcate a long-term process, they are unable to improve or develop the players under their command.
Look at why Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits are currently the PSL’s more successful clubs: In a word, patience. There was a period, a few years ago, when Sundowns fans wanted coach Pitso Mosimane out. But the big boss - Patrice Motsepe - hung in there, he allowed his coach time, and we all know what the Pretoria club has achieved in recent seasons. When Wits changed strategy a few years ago, deciding to not only be a development club, they hired Gavin Hunt to lead the operation. It was a long-term initiative, which came to fruition last season when the Clever Boys won the PSL title.
When you plant something, it’s axiomatic that it doesn’t grow immediately. It requires time and patience. Well, football is the same. The problem, though, is that, in the PSL, and in this country, we pursue things too speedily, too greedily, that we often fail to recognise the stated objective of the pursuit, like a lightning-quick winger haring down the flank to intercept the midfielder’s intelligent pass, but then running past the ball.