Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Pick him or explain: Bafana boss Gordon Igesund's get out of Jali free card


Orlando Irates: Igesund has ignored Andile Jali
The little terrier in the midfield was 16 and playing in an under 19 tournament in Port Elizabeth when Clive “The Dog” Barker first spotted the unique talent that is Andile Jali.

That was in 2006 when no-prisoners midfielder Rino Gattuso was strutting his stuff for Milan in a very similar style. Jali, a scholar at Khanya Naledi Combined school in Itsokolele near Matatiele, came through the local All Stars academy on the border of KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and Lesotho.

Known locally as Cheese-Mnana, local coach Salathiso Ntabeni had him playing adult football from from the tender age of 15 at Hots Spurs FC before he joined Vodacom Soccer league club Matatiele Professionals.

Ntabeni apparently had to present Andile Ernest Jali’s birth certificate several times to prove there was no dodgy business going on in that Easter tournament in Port Elizabeth seven years ago. And within 12 months, Jali had been recommended to AmaTuks coach Steve Barker by his uncle Clive, where his talent was nurtured alongside Bongani Khumalo and Lerato Chabangu.

History tells us all three went on to bigger things.

Jali – often nicknamed Gattuso - is now 22 and has won SIX trophies since his 2009 move to Orlando Pirates, not to mention 11 Bafana caps despite missing the World Cup with a “minor heart ailment” which has not been mentioned since he was sent for specialist treatment in Florida, USA, in May, 2010.

Now the fairy tale has hit another snag. Though still incredibly young by international standards, Jali finds himself in the World Cup wilderness under no-nonsense Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund, who also overlooked him for the African Cup of Nations earlier this year.

When he picked his first squad for the Brazil 2014 qualifiers this month, Igesund went to great pains to explain why he had dropped his captain, Bongani “Mr English” Khumalo, and Ajax Amsterdam midfielder Thulani “Our Messi” Serero from his 23.

He told us Khumalo was suffering a “slight injury” and was only on the bench at Greek club PAOK. Serero’s elimination was even more damning: “He needs mental strength. During the African Cup of Nations he was scared of getting injured.”

But when asked why Jali, who looked like a world beater in the Confederations Cup as a lively teenager nearly four years ago, was not included, Igesund growled: “I won’t discuss players who aren’t in my squad.”

Bang. Off-the-record conversations with Barker, Pirates coach Roger de Sa and other well-connected sources offer no clear reason for this baffling Bafana boycott of one of the PSL’s most talented midfielders.

Perhaps, in an unnecessary interview with Kickoff magazine, these words from the little man himself may help to explain: “People do not understand me – they never will – and it’s not my job to make them understand.

 “I don’t know why, but a lot of people have a problem with me. Most people do not know the real Andile, they just know that I play for Orlando Pirates and because of that they think they know me.

 “I will not be told what to do by who think that they know me. They spread rumours that Andile is like this or that. Those who know me will tell you what kind of person I am. Those who don’t know me? That is their problem.”

These are hardly the words of a player eager to build Bafanesque bridges.

I have, despite efforts by phone, twitter and email, no searing insight in to the Jali psyche. He has occasionally slipped up, been accused of typically footballish incidents and upsets. One coach suggests he has a temper, there are whispers of a particular training ground bust-up and he was bailed along with team-mate Ndumiso Mabena on allegations of assault in 2011, though charges were later withdrawn.

But there is no career-damaging record of ill-discipline or no-I-in-team behaviour that I can uncover.

During the 2010 World Cup, where those heart problems saw him left out after a storming 
Confederations Cup, the German scouts in camp at Velmore near Erasmia also expressed a worry over his lack of physical stature. But as I said to them then, Lionel Messi, Jermain Defoe and Shaun Wright-Phillips are hardly giants.

Dean Furman, the super-fit Doncaster rover who has (unless you’re a Buccaneer) replaced Jali in Bafana’s affections, is surprisingly slight too. Both lack aerial power, perhaps their only weakness in the demanding defensive midfield role.

My view, brought on by Sunday Times Sports Editor Bareng-Batho Kortjaas’s column the day BEFORE Bafana’s rousing 2-0 win over the Central African Republic, is that Jali SHOULD feature in the squad.

When Furman was injured in a clash of heads and was forced off by double vision just before half-time in Cape Town last Saturday, Bafana suffered a 10-minute spell where Jali’s presence as Furman’s replacement was sorely missed after half-time.

Ironically, Oupa Manyisa – Jali’s Piratical partner – filled that hole when he came on and shape returned.

There are those who say Igesund is above critique right now, having – with just one win – restored hopes of a miraculous Brazilian crusade.

But for as long as Jali remains out of the squad, the question will continue to bug Igesund’s as-yet-unsecure tenure until 2018. It is simply not good enough to write him off as “not good enough” or to fall back on the tired old “I spoke to his coach” explanation.

And “I won’t discuss players not in the squad” will only further goad the typically bolshie Buccaneers, who point out Jali’s role in their recent double-treble reign.

The “get out of Jali free card” is in Gordon’s hands now. If Jali plays well for Pirates until the end of the season, Igesund MUST pick him for the still-in-doubt trip to war torn central Africa on June 7 – or offer a full explanation.

The black-and-white half of our footballing nation deserves at least that.

PS: Crystal Palace fan Ed Aarons, the former Citizen football correspondent now working for the Independent in London, offers this view on Kagiso Dikgachoi, the man Gordon prefers to Jali: "KG has been played out of position of late so hard to judge but lost place in centre to young Joniesta. Think best years are behind him."


10 comments:

  1. Maybe the problem is Jali doesnt drink "coffee"...

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  2. Unlike Serero, Jali is mentally strong. His a typical african footballer- hard tackling, thinking, brave and passionate about the game. His presence is needed in the team.

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  3. Not a Bucs fan but I find it strange Jali is ignored. I'm of the opinion Furman's limited ability is overlooked because Bafana's winning for the moment. Jali is a proven winner and BBK's article laid out the facts.

    Ps. John Obi Mikel is 1.88m tall. Not quite "giant", but in strange company alongside Messi and Defoe.

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  4. Seems like this jali debacle is far from end. Gordon may present himself as pressure free but this I don't think is the case and I therefore see him pick jali in the next bafana game, well unless Jali makes a 360 degree turn and fumbles for the sea robbers. For as much as I feel for DK, his days in the bafana Ranks are numbered

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  5. NEAL your are losing it.. Jali isjst another good player in SA Football like other Thousands in the sa football circle...Soo if you need a job at Pirates just approach Khoza.

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  6. l think Gordon wants kinda players who want to be told what to do on the pitch. Looking forward to see the likes of hunry Nomandela inda squad.

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  7. Andile Jali beleives he is bigger than football and until he changes his attitude he must stay at pirates and whiles at it ask Tso Vilakazi what happens to big headed players.

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  8. @nealcol - I'm pretty sure Jali did not feature in the Confed Cup. in 2009 he featured in the FiFA under 20 world cup.

    Given a fair chance I think Jali would prove to be better than Kg, Yeye & Dean in that position.

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  9. let the coach and his technical team do their job.

    Jali is not the only good n talented player left out of the squad. SA has so many talented players who can do a better job than some of the players who are at our squad but the coach picks a combination that he believes in.


    So let him do his job

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