Monday, 14 November 2016

UTTERLY BAFANAS: Mashaba suspended, Rubber Doll in charge... but it won't end there for South African football

SUSPENDED: Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba
Bafana Bafana Head Coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba will not join the team on their trip to Mozambique as the Association has deemed it necessary to employ disciplinary measures after a regrettable incident at Peter Mokaba Stadium on Saturday, 12 November 2016.

Assistant Coach Owen da Gama will take charge of the team in the above-mentioned international friendly match against Mozambique on Tuesday, 15 November 2016 in Maputo.

As is our custom in matters such as these, the Association will not be making any further comments on this matter out of respect for the dignity of the Head Coach and the Association and the legally privileged nature of such proceedings.

This short statement from SAFA on Sunday, less than 24 hours after South Africa’s head coach Ephraim Mashaba had engineered a morale-boosting 2-1 win over mighty Senegal, came as a bit of a shock to football fans - and his Bafana Bafana team, who left for Mozambique for Tuesday night’s friendly in Maputo.

But in truth, the tide had been rising against Shaky ever since his abject failure to qualify for AFCON 2017. The battle raging within the walls of SAFA House over Mashaba’s future will not end soon.

Flash back to early September: After the 1-1 draw against Mauritania, a result which left South Africa in third place behind Group M qualifiers Cameroon, Danny Jordaan famously said: “This cannot be the beginning, this must be the end” and we waited, endlessly, for the failed Mayor of Port Elizabeth to swing his rusty axe.

Then came the BBC Africa interview with Nigerian-based Osasu Obayiuwana which included the immortal line from Jordaan: “Mashaba has to go, the uproar is too much.” SAFA head of communications rushed to Mashaba's defence, insisting nothing of the sort had been said. He was wrong.

Somehow, Mashaba survived to lead Bafana to their opening World Cup Group D qualifier in Burkina Faso. A farcical game, featuring a penalty-that-never-was against South Africa, ended in a 1-1 draw.

For months, I had been told SAFA’s warring factions had agreed a compromise solution: If Mashaba could get four points from his opening two games on the Road to Russia 2018, he would survive. Otherwise: OUT.

Then came Saturday’s farce. After 40mins under the cosh, Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey awarded another penalty-that-never was when Eleazar Rodger’s dive-header quite clearly hit Senegal defender Idrissa Gueye on the thigh.

Captain Tyson Hlatshwayo stuck the spot kick away and Thulani Serero added a second goal before the interval to give South Africa a deeply undeserved 2-0 lead. Senegal fought back to 2-1 but somehow Bafana survived to the final whistle to claim all three points.

Mashaba’s response was predictable… but understandable. He raved about the “football intelligence” of his players and ended by telling the SABC (he refused to speak to SuperSport): "Let me say to you, I've got to celebrate this win. It’s my second lease of life in football. I was already buried. The media had bought a casket for me. We weren't given a chance.”

That might have been enough to get Mashaba through the next 10 months - Bafana’s next World Cup qualifier isn’t until August 28 next year against Cape Verde - but Mashaba was simply unable to contain his glee.

With SAFA officials - and Mamelodi Sundowns billionaire chairman Patrice Motsepe - trying to offer their congratulations, months of fear and anxiety surfaced. Mashaba felt the need to ram his dubious victory down the throats of all present, including Jordaan and his CEO Denis Mumble.

Ever since Jordaan’s defeat in the mayoral race in Nelson Mandela Bay, Jordaan has been angling to get rid of Mashaba, if only to re-stamp his authority on the national football association. Shakes complained - vehemently and publicly - about Jordaan's "lack of support". He embarrassed his bosses. Though many would feel there was justification.

This was his excuse. Then came the press statement. And Bafana left for Maputo without their mentor, Rubber Doll Owen da Gama found himself thrust to the front of the queue.

Suspension for wagging a finger. Cut short in his prime for daring to have the last word. Mashaba will not go quietly. He earns millions as National Head Coach and many other avenues of income have opened up since he took over from Gordon Igesund.

HAPPIER TIMES: Mashaba and Jordaan, 2014
SAFA said yesterday: “Coach Mashaba has asked that we convey to the NEC, and the president of the Association, in particular, his sincerest apologies if he has offended anyone and he unreservedly asked for forgiveness for Saturday’s actions.”

That won't be enough. The longer-suffering SAFA media men (all Mashaba disciples) cannot end this dispute so easily. Expect another abject (but not quite genuine) apology. Expect legal threats. Expect weeks of turmoil around our national football team once more.

The only bright side is that SAFA have plenty of time to either re-instate Mashaba or appoint a replacement before Group D grinds back in to action with Bafana behind Burkina Faso on goal difference and Senegal lurking.

The question is: will Mashaba’s petty suspension shatter SAFA House or unite them? The victory over Senegal - no matter how it was achieved - has put Bafana in pole position in the Race for Russia.

We can’t afford a technical failure. Don’t think for a moment Jordaan, as president, will have the final say. His stock has fallen both in football and politics. This may be a battle Mashaba will win, if he plays his cards right.



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