|THE TWO STOOGES: Meyer and Mashaba|
THIS is not life and death. It's sport. But as different parts of South Africa recover from the devastation of defeats to Arsenal, Kaizer Chiefs and the Springboks, it's important to consider THE NEXT STEP.
Obviously, there have been calls for Arsene Wenger's head for nearly a decade. And NOBODY is demanding the sack for Steve Komphela in his first season, despite Saturday's MTN8 final defeat against Ajax Cape Town.
But something CAN be done about the men who guide our major sports teams: Heyneke Meyer and Ephraim Mashaba. Here's where we begin:
Here’s what Shakes said after Bafana Bafana lost to Mauritania 3-1 in Nouakchott, a result which left the nation on ONE point from two AFCON 2017 qualifiers: “Why should I apologise? I have done nothing wrong. Apology for what? Didn’t this team ever lose? Did the people expect never to lose?”
And here’s what Heyneke Meyer said after the Springboks shock defeat against Japan in their opening Rugby World Cup clash in Brighton on Saturday: "We represent a proud nation and I apologise to the nation. We have got to take it on the chin and get back on track. As coach, I take full responsibility.”
Of course, saying sorry isn’t what it’s all about. South Africans would rather win that hear an apology any day.
And the truth is both our football and rugby national coaches SHOULD resign after a string of poor results with both round and odd-shaped balls.
But nobody in South Africa appears to have the balls to resign when they’ve cocked-up. Meyer and Mashaba will not doubt go on until they are paid-off, taking their lead from the nation’s politicians.
But there are crucial differences between the two failing national coaches, both of whom have broken records for unexpected failure in recent weeks.
Mashaba is NOT expected to beat teams ranked in the top 20 of world football. Japan were ranked 13 in the world of rugby union before their astonishing win over the Boks, probably the greatest shock since William Webb-Ellis handled the ball without a red card in 1823.
Meyer has the chance to redeem himself against Samoa (12), Scotland (10) and the USA (15) while Mashaba must defeat Cameroon (42) twice, Gambia (142) and Mauritania (114) to qualify for AFCON.
That’s why, when we consider these disasters for our national games - here we must include the Proteas’ recent failure in Bangladesh - it’s important to consider levels of expectation.
Meyer is under far greater pressure on that front. Pool B of the current Rugby World Cup was considered the easiest of all. Now, having lost to Japan, there are serious concerns that he won’t even get to the quarter-finals. Personally, I think the Boks will make it that far and no further.
While Mashaba has gone off to AFCON and COSAFA and returned without a win, Meyer is expected to live up to the Bok reputation: two World Cup wins and a world ranking of 3 precludes failure to get out of the primordial pools.
Mashaba’s side are currently ranked 72 and sliding. They haven’t won in EIGHT competitive games (unless you count to CHAN qualifiers against mighty Mauritius) and in truth, nobody expects miracles.
We have Angola (88) FOUR TIMES in the coming montha. Two of them for CHAN qualification, then the two massive clashes which will decide which nation goes forward to the World Cup 2018 qualifying groups.
Even if Shakes gets past Angola, he must top the group and then win a play-off to get to Russia. His predecessor Gordon Igesund couldn’t even finish top of their group for Brazil 2014, despite eventual winners Ethiopia being docked points for fielding an ineligible player.
So we expect very little from Mashaba. Just the occasional win over friendly opposition - they go to Central America for to play Costa Rica and Honduras next month - and perhaps the odd Mandela Challenge triumph.
Mashaba can pick who he wants. He can ignore classy George Lebese and Dutch-based Kamohelo Mokotjo while selecting players who are not active for their clubs. He can make poor substitutions and dreadful team-talks for months to come.
But Meyer is firmly in the spotlight. After dozens of “Springbok Farewell” dinners and parades, every move he makes is under scrutiny. For heaven’s sake: he’s picked a 38-year-old fulcrum in Victor Matfield, he only picked eight players of colour and he appears as lost tactically as our old-fashioned Mashaba.
If Meyer wheeled out his son to ask questions in press conference or called our rugby writers "small boys" he'd be gone already. Shakes has no such problems.
What we can be sure of is this: Despite the loud backing of Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula - which doesn’t appear to help - both men are under huge pressure.
If Meyer doesn’t reach the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup, he’s gone. I’d pull Nick Mallett in from the cold to replace him rather than another dull bore (spell check). If Shakes Mashaba crashes against Angola, he’ll probably survive though Gavin Hunt and Steve Komphela, even Stuart Baxter, would do a far better job.
SAFA’s Dennis Mumble insists Shaky is safe “for two years” which is perhaps the most troubling statement I’ve heard since Steve Komphela said his side have adversity for breakfast.
I say: Do the honourable thing chaps. Heineken Meyer. Shaky Mashaba. Russell Domingone. Apologise when you fail the nation. And resign if you can't turn things around.