Monday, 5 January 2015

THE BLOODY AGENTS: One small step forward for South African football, Dr Khoza. But what next?

Agents influence Bafana: Irvin Khoza
Regular readers of this column will know I’m never quite on the same page as Dr Irvin Khoza, the Orlando Pirates chairman who runs South Africa’s PSL.

I have to say, following his revelations on agent involvement with our national side, the Iron Duke is now one of my favourite people.

Here’s what the influential 66-year-old had to say on the issue which nearly saw me land in court last year: "I am saying this publicly. Unfortunately, for a long time, agents have been influencing the selection of players in the national team.

"That is why I was so hurt when people were saying there is no talent in the country. I said, 'no', the issue is the interference of the agents on some of our coaches.

"Shakes Mashaba has not allowed himself to be influenced and you can see the spin-offs. Every player in the country now knows that he has a chance if he is on form."

That last paragraph is the only one I struggle with. Mashaba’s selection of a number of agent Tim Sukazi’s players in his provisional squad for AFCON 2015 certainly raised a few eye-brows. The issue was not raised by me, but by rival agents. I will make no allegations on that front.

But selecting a number of players NOT EVEN PLAYING FOR THEIR PSL CLUBS is exactly the kind of clue real journalists look for when trying to expose inappropriate relationships between national coaches and desperate agents. Simply by naming those players in his 35-man group suggests there may still be a problem.

But for now, with Mashaba unbeaten in eight games and heading for Equatorial Guinea on a high, perhaps we should leave that debate unshaken.

Of far greater import is the admission from Khoza, a vice-president of the South African Football Association, confirming such shenanigans have taken place on a regular basis with Bafana Bafana.

When I queried the constant selection of Thabo Nthethe under the previous regime, just as the big centre-back was negotiating a commercial contract with Mr Price Sport, my world tumbled down. I was attacked on twitter, television appearances dried up, serious threats were made and Gordon Igesund slapped me with a defamation claim.

When SAFA president Danny Jordaan convened an inquiry under Norman Arendse, not a single journalist turned up to offer evidence, though many were privy to the selection of players for reasons other than “form and talent”.

Arendse and his committee were pleasant enough last year at the hearing in Sandton. They listened to my reasoning, heard how one player was actually banned and hadn’t played all season when he was selected for Bafana, I showed them the death threats and vile verbal attacks I had been subjected to.

But then they cleared Igesund of all charges. To say I was shocked was an under-statement. Having failed to reach the AFCON 2013 semi-finals and qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the man I’d once admired saw his side torn apart by Nigeria and fail at the first hurdle when South African hosted the CHAN tournament  last year.

Though they did not have the courage to nail agent/coach collusion, Arendse's panel DID ban future Bafana coaches from sharing player agents and recommended agents should NOT be allowed in the team hotel before international matches.

I assumed collusion with agents would be the last straw. And in many ways it was. But I was left hung out to dry. Though I know I was right to raise the agent issue, and have subsequently rebuilt my relationship with Mr Makaab, Igesund remains, according to my sources, a sworn enemy. Other “journalists” without the guts to speak out simply transferred their unthinking allegiance to Shakes Mashaba when Igesund’s contract was not renewed.

Those journalist know who they are. The Sunday Times reads like a SAFA public relations sheet, other publications gleefully carried Dr Khoza's words while glibly neglecting to dig deeper in to the story.

Though many of these same journalists turned a blind eye to previous Bafana coaches favouring the clients of certain agents in their team selection, SAFA continues to pay for these writers to travel with the national team as long as they didn’t step out of line with the latest incumbent.

The same has happened more recently. When I had the temerity to question the presence of three particular players in the provisional squad for AFCON – unknowns barely appearing for their clubs in the PSL but all represented by the same agent – both the Bafana Bafana and SAFA twitter accounts blocked me.

I received messages from friendlier elements within SAFA House warning me to keep quiet or face serious trouble. Many on twitter, some with accounts barely a week old, tore in to me, using racism and my English accent to suggest a lack of patriotism.

But now, thanks to the much-maligned but ever-powerful Dr Khoza, the truth is out. Though the stain of match-fixing and under-performance still taints our national side, there is a feeling the no-nonsense Shakes Mashaba is adding a forgotten lustre to the Bafana brand once more.

If Khoza believes agents were involved in the selection of the national squad in recent years, then it’s pretty hard to refute the fact, to slap me with legal action. Quite why the SAFA vice-president didn’t act on this knowledge I just don’t know. He was in the perfect position to stamp it out, surely?

But I will say this. South African football deserves better than grubby agents slipping names to national coaches. We deserve a sport where match-fixing and age-cheating are dealt with firmly and decisively.

GETTING TO GRIPS: me and Danny Jordaan
I expected the newly-elected SAFA president Danny Jordaan to get a grip on these issues. To use his vast FIFA legacy fund for the good of the game. To clean things up, encourage the grass roots, listen to the lone voices willing to expose the truth.

But Jordaan remains on the side-lines. The match-fixing scandal has not been dealt with. The hoped for clear-out at SAFA House has not come to pass.

Jordaan appointed Mashaba at least partly because, as he told me “Shakes was the cheapest option” not out of any great loyalty to local coaches. He simply couldn’t afford Carlos Queiroz, who had been told during CHAN the South Africa hot-seat was his once more.

Jordaan has allowed Mashaba to alienate the greatest current talents of our game, ten years ago the same schism between foreign and local players ended a successful reign.

May Mahlangu is banned. Kamahelo Mokotjo was dismissed as “heavy” despite impressive performances for FC Twente. And most recently, our only Champions League player Thulani Serero was publicly vilified by those journalists I mentioned before, simply because the Ajax Amsterdam midfielder believed he had the right to the same holiday as Doncaster Rovers’ Dean Furman.

Dr Khoza has taken us one step forward this week. He has laid bare one aspect of the corruption in South African football. Mashaba, who appears capable of garnering results no matter what happens off the field, could take us another step forward later this month at AFCON, though it’s the toughest of tasks with Algeria, Senegal and Ghana in Group C.

But, whether Bafana thrive or fail, then what? Who was Wilson Raj Perumal’s contact during the match-fixing controversy before the 2010 World Cup? Who turned a blind eye to widespread age cheating at the academies of our two top clubs at around the same time? Who decided to scrap the charity cup and Vodacom challenge in favour of the Carling Cup and Q innovation?

Why does Bafana have no overseas scout? Why did the players only find out about their AFCON fate from the media AFTER squad announcements? Who is keeping an eye on potential young stars pushing for international inclusion? Did Mashaba actually attend his stage 3 coaching course or was he just handed the certificate? Who is Thabo “Youth Encylopedia” Senong, and how did he become a major force in our game?

These are questions – not accusations – that require answers. There are many more. Falling attendances in the PSL are rarely audited or published.  Accredited journalists are kept off the mailing list to avoid awkward questions. The marketing of our game is a joke. The PSL is run for a select band of clubs and chairmen, not the players or the fans.

What should be the biggest, most successful league on the continent simply oozes money… but it never filters down to the grass roots, where schools and clubs play on fields more suitable for growing vegetables.

Dr Khoza has taken a step. Revealed one poorly-kept secret stain. He says there will be no more agent influence on our national side. But are we sure it’s not on-going? Is this the start of a campaign against corruption or a fabricated finish?

To be clear, I started this campaign when Abdul Bhamjee was in charge of the old NSL in the early 1980s. A much younger Clive Barker was in charge at Umlazi Bush Bucks then, taking on and beating the Jozi giants. But our game refused to progress, to run with openness and transparency.

I went in to exile for 25 years and returned to a brave,new, democratic nation as a South African citizen. To answers these questions with talk of my colour or some kind of hidden agenda is puerile. Let’s weed out the coaches, “technical directors”, agents and administrators who are destroying our reputation, holding back the national sport.

Ultimately, surely, that is the only solution. And while we're at it: how's that statue for Senzo Meyiwa going? Has anybody been arrested?


  1. Hahaha... Neal Collins should be our country's president. Period....

    Well done Neal, one of your best Article again. Great writer this is

  2. I know those journo's Neal.One even threatened you on twitter yesteday calling you Impimpi but they'll be exposed soon