Stuart Baxter reacts during South Africa's defeat to Cape Verde at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Tuesday. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN - After another week of national mourning in which Bafana Bafana plunged an already disenchanted nation into a cavernous, sombre mood of depression, it’s time for a bit more introspection. 

There aren’t any easy, quick-fix solutions. The rot runs deep, which is why the ceaseless, time-worn compulsion of always placing the entire blame on the coach serves only to run the rot even deeper. To be brutally frank, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or mention any big-time football name, they’d all struggle to make any sense or success of the South Africa national football team. The mess is a gigantic Gordian knot far greater than the coach.

There are many issues that hinder the progress of football in SA. But, for purposes of this column, I’d like to isolate just three: the institutional and structural neglect of the sport; the condescending approach of the players; and the inflated opinion of the quality of the sport from the terraces and officialdom.

In the words of the popular proverb: “a fish rots from the head down”, in that, when an organisation, or in this case, a sport, fails, it is the leadership that is the root cause. In essence, it is Safa, the hoary, old suits who run football in SA, who are squarely in the dock, accused of steering the sport into an abyss. 

Surely, it’s time for new, visionary leadership at Safa; it’s time for thinkers and planners and vibrant, innovative people. Those who currently hold football’s future in their grabbing, sweaty palms have become stale and obsolete - they’ve been around for decades and appear to have no desire or clue how to drag the sport from the gulf of gloom into which it has descended. Because football, like politics in this country, has become an organ of opulence, a gateway to financial freedom.

As for the supercilious attitude of Bafana’s players to the opposition, its source, too, is to be found in the psyche of this arrogant, most pretentious nation. It’s in how kids are raised, without respect, without tolerance, and always led to believe that, somehow or other, because of where we come from, that we are special, that we are a little better than others. 

Keagan Dolly and Ramahlwe Mphahlele show their disappointment after the loss to Cape Verde in Durban. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

It’s a character flaw that stains us as South Africans - and it’s this disdain that results in teams like Cape Verde being disrespected and undervalued. It’s this nose-in-the-air posture that creates the complacency which produces uninspiring performances like the back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against Cape Verde. In this country, we don’t teach respect and consideration for others, which, in turn, nurtures the constant self-satisfied identity that surrounds us.

In the same way, this spills onto the terraces, where many exaggerate the real quality of football in this country. In short, we are not as good as what we think we are. So the perception is that Cape Verde are “whipping boys”. Really, how disrespectful is that? 

Football is a sport which features two protagonists, not one. Each one does its home work, each one puts in the hard yards, and each one endeavours to be at its best in search of victory. No football team, anywhere on the planet, can simply walk onto the field and its mere presence is enough to win. This is the arrogance that coats this nation like a second skin. And it is why, whenever Bafana lose, it’s a train smash.

All in all, and I’ve been involved in football for a very long time, both as a player and writer, I’m still as pessimistic as ever about the sport’s future with regard to its national picture. Club wise, in the PSL, football continues to blossom year after year - but, perhaps, that, too, is a problem, which is why a neglected Bafana continue to struggle. Clubs are bigger, and more important, than the national team - but that’s perhaps a column for another time.

Cape Argus

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