Sunday, 18 October 2015

SUFFER WITH SAFA: How an untested 35-year-old got to take charge of South Africa's latest competitive disaster

Left in charge of the nation: Thabo Senong, 35
THE pertinent question after another disastrous weekend for the South African Football Association is this: why did our current national coach not take charge of Bafana Bafana’s humiliating 2-0 defeat against Angola at the Rand Stadium on Saturday?

When Danny Jordaan told me a year ago that Ephraim Mashaba’s main task was to lower the age of the South Africa squad, I never suspected he meant giving Thabo Senong - a 35-year-old coach with a trophy-free CV - full control of the national team.

But that’s the remarkable trick Shaky pulled on Saturday. Apparently Senong, the youngest ever to qualify for Safa's Level 3 Pro Licence in 2011 at 31, picked the CHAN squad (a gathering of unpicked PSL pros, several of them over 30), coached them all week and presided over an embarrassing first leg defeat.

The “Encyclopedia of Youth” even proudly gave the post-match talk, while Shaky hovered in the background, telling us: “I’m sure we can score twice in Luanda, maybe even three.”

In any other nation, the handing of the national squad to a man who has never coached a club would be a major story. There are great managers in the PSL - Gavin Hunt, Steve Komphela, Roger de Sa - who have NEVER been in the Bafana hot-seat.

But for SAFA, it was a mere detail. Another competitive failure after Algeria, Senegal, Ghana, Botswana, Malawi, Gambia and Mauritania hardly ranks on a Richter scale of quakes last week which included:

1 Bafana departing for their Central America tour TWICE. They went to OR Tambo without transit visas for the US and were forced to return to the airport the next morning and fly via Brazil.

2 The team played Costa Rica and Honduras without a recognised striker when non-playing Premier League striker Tokelo Rantie pulled out injured and the Orlando Pirates trio failed to join the squad on a later flight.

3 On their return, Mashaba and five of the technical staff took the early flights home, leaving the home-based players to arrive on Saturday, forcing the postponement of all but one of the weekend’s PSL fixtures.

4 Rantie, who hasn’t even featured on the bench for Bournemouth since their promotion, then went on twitter telling South Africans “you don’t understand football” when Marco Reus wasn’t booed while playing for Germany.

5 Amidst all this, former SAFA employee Ace Kika was handed a SIX YEAR ban for FIFA for his part in the 2010 match-fixing scandal. Their response: “He doesn’t work for the Association any more.”

Rather than conduct a post mortem to ensure such problems never happen again, SAFA just carried on as if nothing had happened. Mashaba issued a few quotes saying how wonderful the Central American tour had been. Bafana tweeted nice pictures and retweeted a few Springboks tweets about the Rugby World Cup.

At no stage did SAFA or Bafana Bafana explain why they had disrupted the entire weekend’s football. A brief apology appeared at 4.30pm on Thursday but by then I’d used other sources - including frustrated Bafana stars left behind by Mashaba in Honduras - to point out that SAFA are actually in breach of FIFA rules by bringing their players home more than 48 hours after an international fixtures.

There were similar shenanigans after AFCON 2015 of course. Humiliation on the field was followed by a FIVE DAY disappearance. The foreign-based players were home and in training by the time the PSL stars got back from Equatorial Guinea.

Sadly, nothing will be done. No questions will be answered truthfully. Did the new Technical Director Neil Tovey play ANY part in all this? Who gave Mashaba permission to put Senong in charge? Why did CONCACAF nations pay all the costs of those abortive flights?

We were just left with Danny Jordaan, the Mayor of Port Elizabeth and President of SAFA, telling us “the real Bafana” will turn things around in those two looming World Cup qualifiers against Angola next month.

While Mr Mashaba charged off, without a word, to an awards ceremony where he had been nominated for South African of the Year.

Close your eyes. Hum the national anthem. Try to find Siyaya TV. Hope nobody else gets banned. Try to track down the Africa Diaspora fund. Pray for three goals in Luanda. Pray the AmaJimbos did okay against Costa Rica at the Under 17 World Cup in Chile last night. Pray for Shaky against Angola in the World Cup qualifiers. And for further miracles against Cameroon in AFCON 2017 qualifying.

But for God’s sake SAFA, don’t tell the people what is really going on. It would be too much.

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