Monday, 1 December 2014

Unbeaten coach of the year Shakes Mashaba continues to confound with Bafana Bafana Mark II

Unbeaten: Bafana boss Shakes Mashaba
ON the face of it, a man who took over in late July has to be pretty fortunate to win South Africa’s coach of the year award. But not this time.

Ephraim Shakes Mashaba is that man. On Sunday night in Sandton, he was rightly awarded the ultimate coaching accolade ahead of the minority sports and, with our Proteas and Springboks currently on the beaten track, the predictable bleating from those “jobs for life” journalists echoed across the social networks.

Danny Jordaan, the SAFA president who has ushered in an era where, for once, diski/soccer/football is emerging as the pride of the nation, rightly sums up: “This has been an incredible year, we hope awards for Shakes and Portia Modise will encourage the entire football family to do even better going forward.”

Sadly, the promised arrival of a Bafana technical director and the new Nike kit has not materialised. Match-fixing, shrouded attendance figures and Senzo Meyiwa’s unsolved killing still weight heavily on our game. And as David Isaacson points out, Mashaba won coach of the year for our AmaJita Under 20s qualifying success, his Bafana Bafana revival wasn't taken in to account.

But forget all that. On the field, Mashaba continues to confound.

Fielding an entirely new team for the Nelson Mandela Challenge at Mbombela on Sunday, his Bafana Bafana Mark II simply went out and played just like the first choice outfit did in AFCON qualifying.

That’s no small feat. South Africa saw off mighty Nigeria to win Group A during a turbulent six-match saga which saw Senzo Meyiwa murdered, an Ebola outbreak, May Mahlangu banned, suspended Equatorial Guinea handed the hosting rights and key players ruled out.

Qualification ahead of the African champion Super Eagles was a considerable upset. But what Shakes came up with on Sunday takes us one step further. The arch-motivator took a whole new squad and despite cancelled training sessions and late withdrawals, created a new “bunch of winners”, to paraphrase Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.

Chippa United’s Thami Sangweni, brother of Orlando Pirates towering defender Siya, took the captain’s armband. Chippa United’s five-goal David Zulu, much talked about as a future Kaizer Chiefs striker, took his place up front next to Polokwane City’s Puleng Tlolane, the PSL’s top scorer with seven goals.

Between them, those twelve goals dwarf the tally of Mzanzi’s big guns. Kermit Erasmus and Lehlohonolo Majoro have six between them. Bernard Parker and Kingston Nkhatha at unbeaten league leaders Kaizer Chiefs have erm... even less.

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But it was the much-talked-about  Bongani Zungu from Mamelodi Sundowns who really impressed, scoring the first goal after Vuyisile Wana’s first-minute effort had been ruled out for off-side and generally getting ball to the right areas. Zulu added the richly-deserved second after half-time and it was job done for Shakes, who has now played seven, won four and drawn three.

With Mashaba in charge, the selection process appears to be secondary. The man himself confesses he is no tactical genius, “I put out 11 players and tell them to play for the nation” and boy, do they play.

This friendly, against an admittedly under-strength Ivory Coast (the Toure brothers and their big European stars had other things on their mind over the weekend), proves the point with some gusto.

Pitso Mosimane and Gordon Igesund are top South African coaches with five PSL titles between them. Last season Mosimane took Sundowns to the championship and this season Igesund has revived SuperSport United and on Saturday, he led them to that Telkom KO triumph.

But in truth, they failed to motivate the disparate band of men chosen to represent their nation. Never really got them to play for the shirt, much like the foreign millionaires before them.

I’m not sure how Shakes does it. I’m told his team-talks are the stuff of legend, invoking all kinds of semi-mythical imagery to fire up his charges.

After his seventh game without defeat, Mashaba glowed: "We needed this win to keep up the winning momentum for the nation.

"This was almost a new team, a good chance to give our fringe players an opportunity to prove themselves. We will try to get some friendlies. Really, some of these boys deserve to get a chance in Equatorial Guinea."

I have no idea how Mashaba achieves these things. But with the cricketing Proteas and rugby Springboks both failing of late, suddenly Bafana Bafana have become the reliable source of national pride in Mzanzi.

Herve Renard, the Ivory Coast coach who conquered Africa with Zambia, sums it up best: “I think 0-2 was a very good for us, the South African team was everywhere.

"I think we had two chances and it's not enough to expect something in football. It's a good lesson for our young players, who know they have a big job to do.

“Congratulations South Africa. It was too fast for us today.”

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