Addis Ababa - As South Africa reflect on another failed qualifying campaign, it is important to acknowledge the challenges facing the country’s football and not merely seek to resolve them through populist talk and the blame game.
Records will show Bafana Bafana’s 2014 World Cup dreams faded with that Bernard Parker own goal inside Ethiopia’s National Stadium on Sunday, the striker unfortunate to hand the hosts a 2-1 win, but our national team’s problems run deeper than to be pinned squarely on a misdirected header.
Already, some have been quick to point out that coach Gordon Igesund failed, which by his own admission is true, while others have sought to defend his record, which now is no better than that of his predecessors given Bafana’s premature capitulation in this qualifying.
A calm Igesund said on Sunday evening here that he would await the South African Football Association to make a decision on his future, as he was employed on a contract ending after next year’s championship in Brazil.
“I did not fulfill my mandate,” the Bafana coach said, although Fifa have now breathed life into Bafana’s dream by announcing they are investigating Ethiopia for fielding an ineligible player two weeks ago against Botswana.
“Obviously I’d like to stay on. We’’ve made giant strides in the past year. The team is playing with a structure. No-one would want to throw away what we’ve built in the past year.”
To some extent, Igesund is right. Bafana have played with some fluidity in recent months, the 3-0 demolition of the Central African Republic justifying the coach’s claim that the team now have belief.’
But it is in big matches such as Sunday’s against Ethiopia where Bafana have always displayed a shocking lack of courage.
In truth Ethiopia are no world-beaters and should never have been allowed to come back into the game once Bafana went ahead through Parker’s 33rd minute goal.
But ours is a national team bereft of experience at this level, unable to box clever and kill off opposition.
This lack of experience is a direct result of failure at junior levels – of the starting XI on Sunday, only two players, Itumeleng Khune and Erick Mathoho, have played for the under-23s, the rest having only tasted international action with Bafana. It’s an indictment on a country quick to lay blame solely at the door of individuals.
While Igesund conceded his future is murky given that this is an election year at Safa, sober minds are required at Safa House. Ultimately the mandarins there might decide to dispense with yet another coach, but will this address Bafana’s problems? Would keeping him solve those problems?
As much as Igesund hasn’t been successful, I don’t see his departure leading to any improvement. Like Khune pointed out in campaigning for Igesund, “a new coach would bring in a new philosophy which we might take time to figure out”.
But if he stays, Igesund has to make drastic decisions to renew the team. Reinvigorating the side has been one of his biggest failings, perhaps understandable given that he had to hit the ground running.
The Bafana coach claimed on Sunday that he had spent the past year “rebuilding” the team, but introducing just Dean Furman and Thuso Phala to Pitso Mosimane’s side is not rebuilding. Calling up 30-year-old Richard Henyekane on a two-match tour and not playing him a minute is not rebuilding.
Real rebuilding with an eye on Russia 2018 must start now, albeit with Ethiopia’s lead set to be reduced to two points should Fifa find them guilty, Igesund won’t be able to dismantle the team right away. But the time has come for him to believe in younger players – Kermit Erasmus should have been on this tour instead of Henyekane.
And like Erasmus, where are the other members of that under-20 team that played so well at the world championships in Egypt under Serame Letsoaka four years ago?
Not one of them has progressed to Bafana level, with Igesund regurgitating failed internationals, yet Letsoaka is his assistant.
A completely new approach is required if Bafana are to emerge as a force again, but the senior team should be fed by junior national sides. When was the last time they were in action? Do the under-23s even exist? Safa should holistically provide answers to these questions instead of making coaches a convenient scapegoat. And should we somehow win a ticket to Brazil via the back door, that won’t mean our problems are gone for good.