Sunday, 26 January 2014

OH MY GORD! Is this the way ahead for Bafana Bafana after the four-letter word that is CHAN?

Three unwise men: Khune, Mbalula and Igesund

Faster than Itumeleng Khune’s speeding Minnie, more devastating than a Bernard Parker own goal, more dangerous than Willard Katsande’s underpants: the aftershock of South Africa’s ball-numbing defeat against Nigeria’s third team last Sunday has crushed our national spirit.

I warned before the third edition of the “La Orange Championnat d’Afrique des Nations” that CHAN could become a four-letter word for Bafana Bafana head coach Gordon Igesund, fresh from that rousing friendly win over world champions Spain.

(And I have said repeatedly that, given our THREE dodgy Bernard Parker penalties against Mozambique, Mali and Nigeria, the name “Cheetahs” might be a worthwhile alternative for embattled SAFA president Danny Jordaan, desperately trying to persuade new sponsors to back his hapless crusade.)

But Gordon wouldn’t listen. Instead of entering a competition for home-based players fraught with danger modestly, he told us: “I don’t want to sound arrogant and say we’ll win it, but we will go all the way.”

He told us "my training sessions are like World Cup finals" and his players got "goose-bumps when they pull on the jersey". What a lot of BOLLOCKZ! that was.

Before that must-draw battle with Nigeria he told us “Playing for a draw is a dangerous thing for any team to do. My philosophy has always been to play to win” and he promptly put out a team with a single striker and five midfielders.

For all sorts of reasons my initial burst of #ingordwetrust tweets have turned to #gordonout; CHAN was a greater disaster than the World Cup (this one and the last) and AFCON2013 combined. It was an absolute farce in terms of selection, tactics and public utterances.

Danny Jordaan, sharing a forum with me on SAFM last week, said the SAFA technical team – which uniquely features two ladies – will decide Igesund’s fate when he submits his CHAN report with FAILED emblazoned across it next week.

And as we watched Zimbabwe and Nigeria surge in to the last four of CHAN, the inevitability of change has sunk in. My telephonic exchanges with Igesund’s son Grant and his ever-present agent Mike Makaab have been about as pleasant as a Katsande challenge laced with Joey Barton’s boots.

What I believe to be the obvious truth is derided by the Igesund camp as “ridiculous”: I have no proof that Thabo Nthethe, the mediocre Bloemfontein Celtic centre-back who was the only ever-present in the CHAN back four, has some sort of privileged role. I cannot say with court-satisfying certainty that Itumeleng Khune’s ankle injury was far too convenient. Or that Igesund and Makaab’s efforts centring on win bonuses before the tournament amounted to undue pressure on SAFA.

The Sunday Times this morning suggested Igesund was urging the players to go on strike, Igesund said "it's a normal procedure to discuss bonuses" while Jordaan insisted "the issue was sorted out in Zambia at COSAFA in June".

But I can say this. Two coaches – Carlos Queiros and a local PSL boss – were called immediately after the Nigeria defeat. Others from Europe have been sounded out. I have the names. Some stunning, others workmanlike.

And Gordon’s reign, which started with such optimism (particularly from me), has dissolved in to a gritty argument involving ethics, integrity, threats and truth. It should be about football.

If Pitso Mosimane got the boot for picking his favourites after a home draw against Botswana, how do we defend Gordon Igesund? While our Sports Minister lamented our “bunch of useless losers” Igesund said he was “at peace with where I am” and Jordaan was scampering about trying to put the blame for an inexplicable failure on development, rugby-playing schools, Apartheid’s legacy and a lack of qualified coaches.

As I said right from the top. CHAN failure at the first hurdle was devastating for our game. This wasn’t a failure on penalties in the AFCON quarter-finals or a deeply ironic Parker own goal in Ethiopia. Without those three Parker penalties, CHAN would have been a diski disaster.

When the SAFA technical team meet “soon after the CHAN final” to discuss the future of our game going in to qualifiers for AFCON 2015 in Morocco, Jordaan said “we have to make sure we are walking the same path with our national coach”.

After the World Cup with Iran, Queiroz will be available to walk that path. So will experienced PSL coaches like Gavin Hunt, Steve Komphela, “Sir” Clive Barker and Amajita’s Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba.

Perhaps the best solution is a combination of a top foreign coach – Nigeria’s Steven Keshi and Zambia’s Herve Renard (now with Sochaux in France) have also been mentioned as winners of the last two AFCONs – in conjunction with a top local.

Whether any of these characters can combine to save our pride (and satisfy Nike, the new technical sponsors) nobody can be sure. But they’d be hard-pushed to do worse than the incumbent over the past fortnight. For me, the key is Igesund's refusal to talk to me since I challenged him on the Thulani Serero groin injury affair. He simply won't justify himself, on air or off the record. A sullen refusal to deal with the issues suggests he has no answers.

As our Sports Minister so rightly said: “We must never wake up to this again.”

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PS: This from SAFA president Danny Jordaan on South Africa's possible name change today: "We play Lions, Tigers, Eagles and Elephants. And we come with Boys Boys." 

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