Tuesday, 24 February 2015

MARCH 7: THE SOWETO DERBY LOOMS Chiefs are no longer unbeaten and Pirates have a Major headache

SEEING RED: Majoro's colleagues step in to calm the situation
THERE will be many major debates before PSL leaders Kaizer Chiefs face arch-rivals Orlando Pirates at Soccer City on March 7. But no pre-Soweto Derby argument is as important as the Majoro debate.

With their unbeaten run halted by SuperSport United last Tuesday night, Stuart Baxter will be relieved to see his side crush minnows Edu Sport 4-0 in the Nedbank Cup on Saturday with Siphelele Mthembu scoring a hat-trick of headers and Hendrick Eckstein an instant hit after coming on as a substitute.

Orlando Pirates did much the same thing to Tornado FC in the Nedbank Cup last week, conjuring an emphatic 4-0 win as expected with all the big guns drawn at home (what were the odds?) for the opening round.

Chiefs, bruised by the 2-0 defeat inflicted by Gordon Igesund’s tough guys, have got to go to Botswana at the weekend with the far-too-narrow 2-1 lead over Gaborone’s Township Rollers to defend. The Buccaneers have got Polokwane City in the PSL.

Then, on March 4, Chiefs have got Ajax Cape Town and Pirates are at Free State Stars with the demolition derby looming.

By then we should have a clearer picture of how things are panning out for South Africa’s big two. Can the Chiefs runaway train get back on track? Will Itumeleng Khune be fit after what he described as a “minor injury” sustained when colliding with his own defender Morgan Gould on Saturday? Will Killer Mphela be fit to start?

And in the black-and-white corner will Kermit Erasmus be forgiven by caretaker coach Eric Tinkler for his tantrum after being substituted against Tornado? Will Brighton Mhlongo keep his place in goal?

But perhaps the most intriguing question of all surrounds former Chiefs striker Lehlohonolo Majoro, the man Stuart Baxter used to call “The Major”.

Majoro left Chiefs for SuperSport United – they even announced it on their website – before agent Tim Sukazi saw his carefully laid plans scuppered by Pirates, who swooped for the former AmaZulu striker amid threats of legal action.

Majoro, though not selected by Bafana Bafana for AFCON 2015, is probably the most lethal striker in South Africa. Particularly when he is in tandem with Erasmus.

But there is one nagging problem. After scoring against Platinum Stars on February 16, Majoro lost it. Out of the blue, in the 62nd minute, he deliberately shoved his boot in to the floored body of Dikwena’s Mahlatsi Makudubela. A deliberate, blatant stamp.

Rightly red carded for his violent conduct, Majoro then blew his top and had to be wrestled off the pitch by his team-mates, with Siya Sangweni deserving credit for keeping his pal away from REAL trouble.

Tinkler said at the time: “I didn’t clearly see what Majoro did, but I watched the footage on TV. I’m very disappointed with his behaviour but after the game he came back to the pitch and apologise to his team-mates and the opposition team.

“It’s good that he came to his senses and realise his mistake but as a technical team we are still going to assess the matter and see a way forward. But his behaviour was really uncalled for.”

On twitter, @ballojoro apologised to his team-mates, the opposition and football generally for his behaviour. He also said THIS on the club's website:

“I know what I did was wrong. I acted out of anger and lost sight of what was important, which is my teammates and the Orlando Pirates brand. The referee acted accordingly because I deserved the red card and I would like to apologise to the Orlando Pirates supporters and the entire football fraternity for my actions. I’m better than that, and they deserve better than that; I promise not to do it again.

“I especially want to extend my apology to my colleague Mahlatse. As professional footballers we should treat each other with respect and always set an example. I went to apologise to him immediately after the match because I realised the error of my ways and I had to tell him man to man that I was wrong.”

Which is all well and good. But in Europe, a red card of this nature merits a further disciplinary hearing. The stamp constitutes “violent conduct” and an automatic three-match ban. The tantrum after his red card constitutes “bringing the game in to disrepute” and further action. A disciplinary hearing would be mandatory.

Yet we have heard nothing from the South African Football Association, despite repeated queries. Majoro is currently serving the routine two-match ban, having missed the Tornado game with Polokwane City and Free State Stars to come.

But with the Soweto Derby around the corner, surely Majoro’s situation must be looked at? Has SAFA’s displinary committee even looked at the incident? Can we allow such behaviour to go unpunished?

I guess the answer to that has to be YES. The apology was great but it cannot hide the loss of control. There should be a hearing. I just hope it doesn’t depend on which team you play for.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

South Africa's new footballing ritual: the annual Kaizer Chiefs post-Christmas slump. WHO IS TO BLAME?

Pardon me? Kingston Nkhatha mocks the boo boys
IN three short years, it has become one of South African football’s most curious rituals. Ever since Stuart Baxter arrived at Naturena, we sit scratching our heads around this time of the season asking: “What’s happened to the AmaKhozi since Christmas?”

Wolverhampton-born Baxter hasn’t done badly of course. Ever since that crushing MTN8 defeat – 4-1 at the hands of Johan Neeskens’ Mamelodi Sundowns in 2012 – he’s had Chiefs near the top of the PSL. He became the first foreign boss to win the title in his first season, finished runner-up last summer and remains 10 points clear of Bidvest Wits this term.

But the annual slump in fortunes appears to be unavoidable. The rumble of grumbles signals the end of summer almost as surely as the autumnal chill.

Baxter’s post-match interview after the 2-0 loss to SuperSport United on Tuesday night was remarkable, given the history. He opened with “Errrr… I really don’t know how we lost that game” and claimed his side had been strong in an awful first half for both teams.

He failed to explain why he started Matthew Rusike ahead of new signing David Zulu and once more we heard nothing of the fate of Katlego Mphela, the one-time “Killer” who has played so rarely since his expensive switch from Mamelodi Sundowns over a year ago.

There was no explanation for his return to the much-derided “Three Towers” system with Morgan Gould, Tower Mathoho and Tefu Mashamaite at the back in a 3-5-2 formation. We’ve seen it several times and it’s never worked.

He ended with: “It’s strange, I like this performance much more than our last two” referring to the 0-0 draw against Bloemfontein Celtic and the scrappy 2-1 win over Botswana’s Township Rollers in the African Champions League on Saturday.

It was after that game against the Gabarone outfit that Baxter admitted: “That’s the flattest I’ve seen us all season,” returning us to where we were this time last year: questioning where the Chiefs will-to-win had gone after Christmas.

With Bidvest Wits crushing Moroka Swallows 2-0 – I do hope somebody is watching the Birds goalkeeper Greg Etafia carefully – the gap is down to 10 points despite a Clever Boys performance neatly summed up by Gavin Hunt thus: “That wasn’t pretty was it? Sheez, I’d have asked for my money back if I was a supporter!”

Masked avenger: SSU goalkeeper Ronwen Williams
If Pitso Mosimane’s Mamelodi Sundowns win their two games in hand, the reigning champions can cut that lead to just SEVEN, threatening a repeat of the KaboYellow come-from-behind triumph of last season.

And still here we are, scratching our heads: for 20 games this season (and two at the end of last season, when it was too late to catch Masandawana) Kaizer Chiefs have avoided defeat despite a chronic lack of strike power.

Now, with Bernard Parker on a paltry three goals all season, Kingston Nkhatha having scored more goals than Chiefs in the League this year (one) and Matthew Rusike taking over the mantle of “Booing 747”, the apparently unavoidable slump is back.

Ronwen Williams, wearing a mask to protect the cheek he fractured before Christmas, was unbeatable as Jeremy Brockie - the New Zealand striker I warned Stuart about on twitter and via SMS - scored the first and Dove Wome added a late second, his sixth of the season.

We can talk about derailed trains and jittery juggernauts all we want but the question of WHY Kaizer Chiefs can’t sustain their form is a vital one.

Over-confidence must be a part of it when you get to the halfway point with a big lead every season. Having a star midfielder arrested for alleged assault won’t have helped. And the transfer window came and went with Zulu arriving from Chippa United complete with a medial knee ligament injury.

These are all contributory factors.

Warning: My Brockie tweet 12 hours before the game
But surely the greatest problem Kaizer Chiefs face is their fickle fans. They transmit their nerves to the arena and the players feel it. Nkhatha claimed after playing his first game against his old club: “The booing simply makes me dig deeper” but in truth the men in gold live their life in fear of being picked out by the 15-million strong AmaKhosi army.

Before the season had even restarted the social networks were awash with critiques of Baxter, Rusike, Yeye and the Khune/Khuzwayo conundrum during the Celtic clash. And at that point nobody looked likely to catch the train.

Those howls of disapproval rose to fever pitch before Polokwane on Tuesday night. And almost like a self-fulfilling prophesy, it came to pass (though Chiefs passing on the night was awful).

It’s time for the AmaKhosi to get behind a troubled train that is rapidly running out of steam. Time to support not detract. Before it’s too late.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

ELEPHANTASTIC: FINAL VERDICT ON AFCON 2015: it was everything we expected, but not quite what we hoped for

The Elephant in the Room: Ivory Coast celebrate AFCON2015
AFCON 2015. The tournament that should never have taken place. The tournament that defied expectations. The tournament that defied Ebola. The tournament that defied logic, right down to that extraordinary penalty shoot-out after a drab final.

It’s only football. We know that. The Ivory Coast Elephants were always the heavyweights. But the ups and downs in Equatorial Guinea over the past three weeks have been even more knuckle whitening than normal, surely?

The lows? We’d have to start with South Africa’s own fortunes in Mongomo, ancestral home of the despot President Theodorin Obiang, in charge since 1979 and grinding his people in to the ground. Bafana Bafana couldn’t even conjure a win in Group A as they ground us into the ground.

They went out of the tournament with one point and a desperate record equalled in its awfulness only by Burkina Faso. Yet they led in all three games. Heart-breaking.

Still, as I said when the draw for this African Cup of Nations was made, the limited talents of Shakes Mashaba were never going to get us out of Group C once the dodgy hosts had got their hands on Issa Hayatou’s warmed balls. Pity Ephraim forgot to check who was actually in the Group of Death before he started laughing it off and – laughably – promising a repeat of our great 1996 triumph.

On Saturday, under thermo-nuclear levels of secrecy, Mashaba reported to the SAFA technical committee, dominated (unusually) by Natascha Tshichlas, Ria Ledwaba and Fran Hilton-Smith, Danny Jordaan’s three princesses.

I’m told Shakes was rapped over the knuckles for his treatment of young foreign stars Thulani Serero and Kamahelo Mokotjo and told the search for a modern, highly qualified Technical Director remained a priority. I bet he didn’t like that. Still, he wore a lot of nice shirts during the tournament, between goalkeeper changes.

While South Africans came back down to earth after that fabulous unbeaten qualifying success which left champions Nigeria in disarray, we have had to watch the knock-out stages dominated by Equatorial Guinea cheating, Africa’s No 1 Algeria under-performing and Tunisia sulking.

Weapons of destruction: missiles thrown by fans on Thursday
And then came that awful semi-final. I said on twitter Ghana looked reluctant to add a third goal against the hosts in last Thursday’s second semi-final and BOOM, when they went 3-0 up, we were treated to awful scenes from the home crowd in a nation where so many live beneath the bread line yet still throw plates when they’re angry.

Actually, we missed most of the nastiness which left 14 Ghanaian fans in hospital, the Dictatorial Guinea television producers wouldn’t allow us to see the crowd trouble, the missile throwing, the real nastiness.

And when the final came around on Sunday night, the host nation were denied live coverage of their own tournament at the death. Unbelievable. While commentators and analysts praised long-serving Presidents Obiang and Issa Hayatou, African football slipped to a new nadir with trouble exploding before Zamelek’s game in Egypt just as the final kicked off.

It's a mess. Tunisia have yet to apologise for their accusations of bias after Dictatorial Guinea’s dodgy late penalty in the quarter-final and Morocco, the hosts who pulled out over Ebola fears (but still hosted FIFA’s Club World Cup) are out for the next two AFCONS.

The host nation were given a mere slap on the wrist for their half-hour of mayhem. They were fined $100,000 while Tunisia and Morocco face bills of millions; and Equatoria Guinea played their 3rd place play off WITH fans, losing to the DRC in an eminently missable consolation clash.

Sadly, much of the “dream final” between Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire was eminently missable too. The highlights? Ghana’s Christian Atsu, the Chelsea striker on loan with a cushion at Everton, hit the post, Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard wore a nice pink tabard and a clearly unfit Asamoah Gyan managed to stamp on an Elephant without punishment.

It was always going to go to penalties, and the drab 120 minutes was soon forgotten as Ghana took a 2-0 lead after four penalties, blew it… and the goalkeepers decided it with 35-year-old Boubacar 'Copa' Barry scoring where his counterpart Razak Braimah failed.

After 22 penalties Barry, a last-minute replacement, was the bemused hero. Asamoah Gyan, the Ghana captain who came off with a minute to play and missed the penalty shoot-out, may well turn out to be the scapegoat, as he was at the World Cup in 2010.

In essence, it was a repeat of the 1992 final, with the Ivory Coast ironically turning the Orange Africa Cup of Nations in to a feast of orange. Yaya Toure lifted the trophy while Andre Ayew wept inconsolably, remembering his father Abedi Pele’s upset when he missed out on the same final 23 years ago.

For Ghana coach Avram Grant, in his lucky blue polo shirt, barely a flicker of emotion. He lost the Champions League final with Chelsea when John Terry fluffed his penalty against Manchester United in Moscow. He’s used to heartbreak.

AFCON WINNER: goalkeeper Barry is carried aloft
Herve Renard, the first man to win AFCON with two different nations, said: “It’s coming from God, but you have to be strong. I believe in history and I’m a lucky coach.

“We are strong because everybody worked very hard. Didier Drogba didn’t win this cup with Ivory Coast, it’s a shame he’s not there. It’s a shame he’s not here. I’d like to give him part of this, dedicate it to him.

“You don’t achieve something in one month, the team spirit made the difference. I discovered (Ghana’s) Andre Ayew at a young age, I felt sorry for him but he’ll be back.”

Ghana coach Avram Grant groaned: “It’s painful to lose and be the better side on the pitch. When you win you can say anything, this is football. Penalties are painful. It’s not the first time this has happened to me.

“We have a good team for the present. In a short time we did a lot of good things. We are crying now, they gave good heart, good football. Good for the future.”

Former Arsenal veteran Kolo Toure, now with Liverpool, said: “Penalties are all about God to me. We waited a long time for this. My generation waited for 23 years. I’d like to dedicate this win to my brother who died during the World Cup.”

In summary, AFCON 2015 was exactly what we expected, though not quite what we might have hoped for. From the moment Morocco withdrew, we knew Equatorial Guinea would be hard-pressed to run the show without a hitch.

A pitch invasion and a drab final won’t spoil the memories for Ivorians. But for Ghanaians and South Africans, we move on. And hopefully for uapologetic Tunisia and 7 times winners Egypt – where 14 died in violence before a Zamalek game last night – there will be a brighter future too.

But to be honest what would really cheer me up: a free and fair election in Dictatorial Guinea. But I guess that's too much to ask.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Twar does not determine who is right, just who is left: Robert Marawa and me

OPEN TWARFARE: today's Daily Sun
ROBERT MARAWA and I first spoke on the phone in a car park in Tshwane after the USA had beaten Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. Quite a night that, late goal, much dancing.

Beverly Maphangwa, Rob’s trusty producer, had got my number from Sizwe Mabena, the SABC commentator I’d met when still a British-based journalist at the infamous Bafana Bafana 5-0 warm-up against Guatamala in Polokwane.

Though contracted to 702 and Cape Talk for the duration of the World Cup, I spoke to Robert because I’d heard his show on MetroFM had a growing listenership. It was a good live chat. Lots of positive feedback.

Our relationship continued for dozens of interviews, a memorable night in Abu Dhabi plus a few visits to his SABC studio and a number of appearances on Thursday Night Live on SuperSport. I still have two coffee mugs with Rob’s mug on.

In the midst of that, there was an awful night when, after many Marawa interviews and a couple of SABC1 television appearances on a Sunday (again, free of charge, last minute) Rob and Bev said they had an analysts’ job for me. I was to be the “Gary Bailey of the SABC”. They told me I just had to attend a screen test, a mere formality as “you’ve got the job”.

When I turned up at Auckland Park, I chatted with the lads I knew and prepared for my appearance, only for a large, fat man I didn’t know to come in and tell me in terse terms: “Are you Neal Collins? Please leave. There is no screen test.”

I attempted to object but found myself in the car park, pretty upset, with Bev and Rob telling me on the phone it was out of their hands, but they would sort it out. They never did.

Curious. Do you remember Abu Dhabi Robert? When they were pretty mean to you at the Laureus Awards and you couldn’t grab any guests off the red carpet? I was working for The National in 2011, I had all-area access because I was with the government newspaper. I went out and spoke to Morgan Freeman, Zinedane Zidane and Martin Kaymer, then came scrambling back to tell you what they’d said.

We sat there for a few hours in a dark room away from the glitzy ceremony, trying to keep the show lively, checking the various winners off the television feed. We had a high old time. The next morning we chatted with Patrick Vieira and Lucas Radebe after a celebrity football game. I thought it was fun.

Wherever I was in those days, as I moved from the UK back to South Africa via Abu Dhabi, I’d take your calls. Crouching behind the stands at the Wycombe Wanderers stadium in Buckinghamshire, hiding under tables from the Highveld rain, talking to you in restaurants, fibbing to my production team to have a quick chat with you and Danny Jordaan one night while I went for “a cigarette break”.

Then, when I got settled in South Africa and began working first for News24 then 702, the calls lessened. And stopped. I was no longer required. Robert and I never fell out, just drifted apart. I guess he had better people to call, though many on twitter asked what had happened.

When Robert fell out with some high-ups and failed to gain an invite to the PSL awards at Gold Reef City  few years ago, I stood up for him, telling former PSL PRO Altaaf Khazi publicly on twitter I wouldn’t attend unless Mr Marawa was invited.  It worked. Robert got his invite, though he didn’t attend.

Occasionally I’d compliment Robert on his many awards and when I heard a great interview on his show – Jimmy Tau and Makhaya Nthini spring to mind – I’d check it was okay to use the quotes and put them on my blog with a credit to spread the word about South Africa’s top sports radio programme.

But I could tell the attitude was changing. Robert was becoming BIG. He rarely replied to my tweets, there were a couple of acid comments but last week, when I pointed out the Capital One Cup at Wembley took place on March 1 – we share that as our birth date – he offered a pleasant response.

OUCH! Some of Rob's tweets
Then on Monday, Marawa announced he was having Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba on his show for “a full post-mortem” of our dismal failure at AFCON 2015. The tweets began to fly. Not mine, I hasten to add. For hours, tweeps complained that Marawa had let Shakes off lightly, that he was allowing the former AmaJita coach to avoid answering questions.

I retweeted a couple of those messages while I was writing a story about Kamohelo Mokotjo and preparing for my own radio show. I asked Rob and then producer Bev if I could have a podcast of the interview. Robert didn’t reply. Bev did. But no link was forthcoming.

Late in the night, after my late-night hour of football on Jacaranda FM, yet another tweet came in denouncing the interview. I said: “Mate, people like Bareng-Batho Kortjaas (who wrote in the Sunday Time that anybody questioning Shakes was being racist) and Robert Marawa would NEVER ask a difficult question. Football is not important to them.”

Admittedly, it was a bit strong. It had been a long day. I grow weary of people defending a coach who told us he would win AFCON 2015 but came home with one point and talked about his “success”, who claims using three goalkeepers in three games was “a plan”.

I expected a strong response, but not the personal slurs Marawa delivered in an hour-long tirade. He accused me of being on “cheap drugs” of being “a bitter old fool” and perhaps the one that hurt the most: “Never been "friends" with this human being!!!"

I replied in kind of course. The missus, a lawyer, said I shouldn’t have. But men are men. Football men are even worse. The next morning, Sunday Times sports editor BBK issued a clear threat on twitter and I told him to grow up.

I know, because of my accent, there are football writers who resent me and my freedom to tell the truth, to tell it EXACTLY as I see it. I did it with Gordon Igesund and Shakes Mashaba. I’ve done it with Irvin Khoza and Bobby Motaung. My journalism? Support when they’re doing the right thing, ask questions when they fail, when they lie, when they select has-beens and axe our best players.

But let me end this by drawing on 30 years of sports journalism both here and abroad: you don’t reply to footballing opinions with personal insults and abuse. Particularly when the person you’re abusing can point to numerous occasions where – without any hope of payment – that person was prepared to help you out.

To Marawa, BBK and the “yes men” who blocked me – weeks ago – on the @bafanabafana and @safa_net twitter accounts, I have this warning. Your conduct has been taken to a higher level. High ranking SAFA members are talking as we speak before Saturday’s showdown with Shakes which may be tougher than the “yes men” expect.

There is a way of behaving when you’re a public figure Rob. David Kekana, another SABC analyst, did much the same when I rightly drew attention to his racism against Bafana goalkeeper Darren Keet. He also threw accusations and personal insults before issuing an apology.
This time, I don’t want an apology. I don’t seek reconciliation with a man capable of stooping so low. I just hope you – and others reading this – will stop for a second and consider who you are, what you stand for.

There must be room for different opinions from the little people. Most of my problems come from retweets rather than my own semi-serious one-liners. Argue against them with all your might, but try to avoid defamatory remarks, personal insults and – this is for the bloke in the cap – violence.

You know it makes sense. You have my number Mr Marawa. Your call. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

The story that had to be written: how Shakes Mashaba destroyed Kamohelo Mokotjo's international career

Wanted for R105m: Shakes Mashaba reject Kamohelo Mokotjo
SO  here it is. The Kamohelo Mokotjo story that has to be written, as the transfer window slams shut in Europe tonight with Southampton showing a (South African record) R105m interest in the FC Twente midfielder.

It is a sad tale of arrogance and poor judgement, miscommunication and wasted opportunity for South Africa… much like the equally bizarre dumping of Thulani Serero and May Mahlangu, two more top young talents we might never see in a Bafana Bafana shirt again.

It starts shortly after the most recent re-appointment of “cheapest option” Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba as our national coach at the end of July last year.

When Mashaba picked his first Bafana squad for the opening AFCON Group A qualifiers against Sudan away and Nigeria at home, Mokotjo was an automatic selection for South Africa, having been blooded by Gordon Igesund against Mozambique in September 2012.

Playing in the Ere Divisie for FC Twente after spells with Feyenoord and PEC Zwolle, the 23-year-old was getting rave reviews in Holland, topping the charts statistically and winning over fans in Enschede.

It was no surprise. The lad from dusty Kutloanong, 10km outside the remote mining community of Odendaalsrus in the Free State, was first spotted by no lesser legend than Zinedane Zidane in 2003 when South Africa’s Under 12s swept to victory in the Danone Nations Cup in Paris (http://www.southafrica.info/2010/u12soccer-080903.htm). World Cup winner ZZ picked Mokotjo out as his player of the tournament and a bright career was underway.

BORN TO SUCCEED: South Africa's U12 Danone Cup winners in Paris
in 2003. Mokotjo was voted player of the tournament by Zidane
Makotjo enjoyed a single season for PSL champions SuperSport United in Tshwane under Gavin Hunt in 2009. Hunt, speaking exclusively tonight, remembers: “Kamohelo was a fantastic player back then. The thing about him was his technique. He could really pass a ball. I used him as a substitute that season, we were winning the league… but I knew he was going to Holland.”

And so it came to erm... pass. So what exactly went wrong when he was called up by Shakes? Mokotjo turned up in Johannesburg and flew to Khartoum with Mashaba’s brand new Bafana. But he didn’t even appear on the bench as Shakes recorded his first win in his latest spell in charge of our footballing fortunes.

Mokotjo then flew back to Cape Town for the Nigeria game, was named on the bench, but did not come on in a 0-0 draw against the reigning AFCON champions.

Bemused, bothered and bewildered, Mokotjo return to Enschede to await developments after flying 17,000kms (Amsterdam-London-Johannesburg-Khartoum-Cape Town-Johannesburg-Amsterdam) and failing to kick a ball in anger. And when Mashaba picked his second squad for the home and away clashes against the Congo, he found himself DROPPED.

Here, word for word, is Mashaba’s explanation for that decision: “When I looked at Mokotjo in training, there were some signs of him being heavy and sluggish. I think the process of finding a new club in Holland took its toll on him.

“He’s a good player, and I think with time, if he works hard, he will be alright.”

Mokotjo was having none of it. Here’s his response: “I honestly don’t want to go on about not being selected for Bafana, the trainer should select the players that he wants. But the reasons he gave for not picking me were surprising and very strange.

“I was in camp the whole time and the coach never said a thing. Now, out of nowhere, he has stuff to say about me in the media that I find disrespectful.

“He could have just told me what he thought of me to my face rather than calling me heavy and sluggish and saying that moving to a new club has taken its toll on me. That I don’t appreciate because none of it is true.”

Football experts remain utterly flummoxed by the whole saga. Did Mashaba really see a chubby no-hoper when highly-rated scouts and coaches saw finely-honed talent? Still, Mashaba was unbeaten and the "Shakes Knows Best" show limped on to impressive AFCON qualification before last week's woeful elimination with a single point.

And that would be the last we heard of it. Clearly one of our finest young players was no longer going to play for his country again under the current coach despite all the talk about SAFA’s vision for the future.

Only Mashaba went further. Next he had May Mahlangu BANNED for turning down a Bafana call due to fatigue. Then, even more bizarrely, he “went bezerk” (according to a SAFA official, I have the SMS on my phone) and didn’t pick South Africa’s only Champions League star Serero for AFCON2015 despite his Man of the Match performance in qualifying against Sudan at home.

My attempts to understand that peculiar episode are written along with a SAFA document clearly showing the nature of Mashaba's blunder (Serero was due to report for camp on January 2 but was axed on December 30, work that one out): http://neal-collins.blogspot.com/2015/01/exclusive-safa-statement-that-proves.html

And then, today, the whole ugly Mokotjo episode flared again, with news that Southampton were ready to offer £6m for the South African midfielder, responsible for 12 assists and one of the best pass-accuracy percentages in the Ere Divisie this season.

Having played under new Southampton coach Ronald Koeman at Feyenoord, the Saints’ move was predictable – but crucially flawed. Mokotjo fails on two fronts: the FIFA rule preventing a player representing three sides in a season (Zwolle, Twente, Southampton) AND the English FA ruling restricting footballing work permits to nationals outside the European Community if they haven’t played 80 percent of their national team’s competitive games.

And so we’re back to Mashaba. The man who was sacked in 2003 for dropping our European-based stars for a friendly against England. He’s done it again. By falling out with Mokotjo, for no apparent reason, the chances of Kamohelo becoming our nation’s most expensive footballer are severely restricted.

With Mahlangu set to move to Turkey – where restrictions on foreign players have been lifted – we must ask if Shakes has effectively ruined South Africa’s chances of having another Steven Pienaar in the near future.

Both Serero and Mokotjo are clearly good enough to play in the Premier League – or even Germany’s Bundesliga or Spain’s La Liga – but Mashaba’s attitude has effectively blocked that lucrative path both both men. He prefers to pick journeymen playing in the lower leagues of Europe or PSL "stars" some of whom can't even get a game for their clubs in South Africa.

One glimmer of hope remains. Gabriel Paulista, Arsenal’s new signing, was given “special dispensation” due to his age and the size of his transfer fee (£11.3m) and the UK Home Office granted him a work permit last month despite Gabriel’s failure to appear for Brazil.

If South Africa wants footballers playing at the top level in Europe, we must rely on such favours. Unless Shakes Mashaba – under pressure from SAFA to reconsider his selection process according to the Sunday papers – backtracks. Mashaba’s response: “I don’t think it’s necessary to look at these players again.” And on Robert Marawa's show tonight, a cryptic: “They can always telephone me.”

Shocking. I rest my case.