Sunday, 3 April 2016

Why Shaky is going nowhere fast: the sad tale of South African football

Head man: Shakes Mashaba
ALL hope is lost. Well, just about. There is actually a complicated list of results which could still see battered Bafana Bafana get to AFCON 2017 in Gabon.

But it’s a helluva long-shot. Only Ghana managed to get through to Equatorial Guinea in 2015 with 11 points out of seven group winners. Everybody else topped their groups with 12, 13, 14 or even a perfect 18 points.

The most South Africa can get after their frustrating 0-0 draw against an unambitious Cameroon in Durban last week? NINE POINTS. 

Somehow, if Cameroon and Mauritania contrive to fall over before the line from here, Shaky - as he is now known - might still get through on goal difference if Bafana beat Gambia away and Mauritania at home.

So yes, Mr Mashaba, you’re right. “Our AFCON 2017 campaign is looking darker and darker” but there is a tiny loophole of light.

But it’s the way Shaky tells it that lacks a certain professionalism. A crass mixture of arrogance and denialism never did anybody much good. Ask our president.

Mashaba was waxing lyrical about his chances of making it to Gabon as one of two best runners-up in the group. Again, that will probably require 11 points. But when that was put to him at the press conference, Mashaba responded rudely, asking “who’s view is more important here, yours or mine?”.

The attitude is not new. Mashaba got his son Thabo to ask questions when his imminent failure began to become an acceptable topic last year. And then there was the time he told us: “I’m going to be rude — I think my colour is a problem here. That’s what I’m going to say.”

All patent nonsense of course. Gordon Igesund and a string of Brazilians took far more stick far earlier in their reigns. 

The problem with Mashaba is not his arrogance or his colour. It’s his utter failure to select in-form national squads, his inability to hold on to a lead, his blindness to quick substitutions and... well... South Africa’s general footballing demise over the past 18 months.

Going back to the 2-2 draw in Nigeria in 2014 - which capped off an unbeaten qualification campaign for AFCON 2015 - Shaky has presided over EIGHT African Cup of Nations fixtures. Of those, five were drawn, three were lost... and not a single one has been won.

We left AFCON 2015 with one point. Then came COSAFA and CHAN failures, bracketed by the Group M debacle we now find ourselves embroiled in. A home draw with Gambia was unexpected. Defeat in Mauritania simply unacceptable.

Though Mashaba started his qualifying campaign in 2014 by picking youngsters in line with SAFA president’s VISION2022 programme, by the time AFCON 2015 came around he was doing the usual Bafana boss thing: picking players suggested by his favourite agents, some of whom weren’t even playing for their clubs.

Ignoring in-form players - to the point where he actually accused our one few top-level regular European players he was "too heavy". Going for older and older players and ignoring the Vision2022 blueprint. 

Dennis Mumble, the curious little man who went from Team Manager to CEO at SAFA in the space of four years, insists after the recent qualifying debacle: “The judgement process is already underway. We do not want to react with a knee-jerk.

“We do have the option of telling Mashaba “listen this is not going to work” (before World Cup qualifying begins with the draw in June) but we still have confidence in our head coach.”

Sadly then, and this is a national trend, our leadership will stay intact despite obvious, critical failure at the highest level.

When Mashaba told us after failing at home against Cameroon: “If we play like this we will qualify for the World Cup” his shortcomings were revealed in a sentence.

When I was discussing Kamohelo Mokotjo's complaints in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf today, I got four or five calls from interesting sources in the South African game talking about life under Mashaba.

One, an agent, told me Mashaba only deals with "local agents" and that he gets kickbacks for picking them in his squads. We've been there before. Hard to prove, easy to suggest looking at the continual selection of players who attend club games armed with cushions.

Then there was the former Bafana player revealing how Mashaba's training camps are "like amateur night" and that general chaos surrounds a call up to the South African team. Missed flights, team meetings where Mashaba is an hour late, the time in Latin America where the players stayed in bunk beds while Shaky flew home on the first flight to coach the Nedbank Keyona team.

Or how about the coach who said: "When Shaky suffered a few withdrawals before the Cameroon games, he didn't have any numbers to call replacements. They were scrambling about trying to find somebody, anybody.

"There is no communication with SAFA, there are international players who have not heard from Mashaba since he took over. Others who are called to the squad but just get ignored for a week. We've even had players called up... and then told not to come."

Then, from my mole at SAFA House, THIS: "A senior official told Mashaba to try to be more relaxed with the media. He just laughed. It was suggested he should stand aside for the World Cup qualifiers but he just shrugged his shoulders."

Reading between the lines of this morning's calls, it appears - like our president Jacob Zuma - there is NOTHING that would make Mashaba leave his lucrative leadership role.

With money coming in from SAFA, his expenses, Nedbank and so-called "other sources", Mashaba is earning more than our top PSL coaches for doing a lot less and achieving next to nothing.

One player told me this morning: "He barely talks to some of the squad, particularly the overseas players. He has his favourites. There are agents everywhere. The team talks are a joke, some of us can't even understand what he's saying. He makes references to Apartheid and the struggle, but we have no idea what to do when we go down the tunnel.

"Sometimes he just shrugs and says "I know nothing about the opposition" which isn't great 10 minutes before a vital game."

The clincher for me was from the SAFA House mole: "Mashaba appoints more and more people around him without even asking the Executive. He does as he pleases. He doesn't turn up for meetings if he thinks it's going to go badly for him.

"He doesn't listen when we offer advice, he says: "I know how this works. I know all about how SAFA works" then he simply walks away."

The suggestion - from a series of unsolicited callers/emailers which I obviously can't name - being: SAFA can't fire Shaky because he knows too much. He holds the power. Certainly sounded that way to me.

But it’s not just Shaky is it? We live in a nation where crowd figures and transfer fees are top secret. Three of our four representatives are out of continental club competition. Our referees are as poor as our strikers and Kaizer Chiefs, the nation’s favourite club, haven’t scored in five games.

Mumble himself has admitted SAFA is essentially bankrupt, spending R500m a year with an annual income of R300m - and then they turned to penniless national carrier SAA for help! Danny Jordaan has gone from telling me South African football was his one driving ambition to taking the mayoral role in Port Elizabeth and telling us: “Football is just a hobby for me.”

The only bright point? Zimbabwe, packed with PSL stars, SHOULD get to Gabon. At least we’ll have something to cheer about in 2017.

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