Had the axed national team mentor realised this sooner, before he was fired for gross misconduct and insubordination three months ago, perhaps he would have had more admirers at Safa House. One of Mashaba’s most puzzling remarks during his stint as coach was that he didn’t think any of the Europe-based players had anything special when compared to their local counterparts.
Even when it was clear Bafana were incredibly below par at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Equatorial Guinea, where they finished bottom of their group following defeats to Algeria and Ghana, as well as a draw against Senegal, Mashaba was unmoved in his stance that side-lining Thulani Serero, Kamohelo Mokotjo, May Mahlangu and Ayanda Patosi was the right thing to do. And this was an ongoing theme while he was in charge.
Whether he watched Saturday’s 3-1 win over a well-chosen opponent in this year’s Afcon debutants Guinea-Bissau or not, the performance and the way Bafana dominated a side undoubtedly on the rise - and the biggest movers up the Fifa rankings last year alone --will leave him to conclude that he made a serious blunder.
Let’s not get carried away, Bafana are specialists in winning friendly matches and choking when it matters most. But having four overseas-based players named in a starting line-up was rare when Mashaba was calling the shots. In some ways, Owen da Gama, the caretaker coach who served as Mashaba’s assistant for more than two years, betrayed him with his initial 25-man squad for the two friendly matches against Guinea-Bissau and Angola. It was littered with the country’s exports. Sure there was a lot of local flavour with Percy Tau getting a goal on debut moments after coming on, but it was Mokotjo, Serero, Keagan Dolly, Kermit Erasmus and Andile Jali who were more noticeable.
Dolly, the Man of the Match (although that is highly debatable) at the weekend, only recently received recognition from Mashaba because of a public outcry. His move to Montpellier in France in January was further proof that he is worth his weight in gold. We know all about Serero - and his tiffs with the former coach in the past.
Mokotjo’s case was even more complex if you consider the fact that he probably ended up renouncing his SA nationality in December - when he took up Dutch citizenship - because he didn’t think he’d ever play for his native country as long as Mashaba was coach. Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba saved the day by allowing the FC Twente midfielder to resume his residency late on Friday.
It is a pity the squad in camp at the moment for these two practice matches wasn’t picked by Mashaba’s successor, leaving us wondering whether this is what the Bafana make-up could look like going forward or if it will resemble an old age local home of the “tried and tested” when the going gets tough. Mashaba’s selection criteria was like throwing a bowl of spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. The new man has been warned.