Tuesday, 28 April 2015

From pillar to far post: South Africa's No 1 Itumeleng Khune deserves better

FINE LINE: Khune sees red against AmaZulu
ITUMELENG KHUNE is not your average PSL journeyman. In South Africa, his status rarely falls below legendary and his consistency matches goalkeepers in leagues of a far higher standard than our local mish-mash of dwindling attendances, dodgy referees and 11-goal top-scorers.

In short, Khune is a treasure. Our Gerrard, our Lahm. With 62 caps for his country and a second PSL winners’ medal under his belt after Kaizer Chiefs romp to the championship last week, the 27-year-old might be forgiven for thinking he’s a vital part of the fabric of our game.

Apparently not.

Sadly, this year he has been harassed from pillar to goal-post in a series of quite unbelievable snubs and let-downs for one of South Africa’s top celebrities.

It started last year with SAFA issuing misinformation about the heel injury he sustained on a rock-hard Marks Park pitch when he turned up for Shakes Mashaba’s first Bafana Bafana camp. While SAFA claimed he turned up carrying the injury, coach Stuart Baxter was fuming, believe me.

Weeks in a moon boot followed but by the time the AFCON squad was named at the end of December, Khune found himself on the bench behind Brilliant Khuzwayo, waiting for his first team return. He was fit and ready to join the Bafana camp. Yet Khuzwayo was picked for AFCON, captain Khune was not required.

There is no explanation for that blunder. Khune turned out for Chiefs in the friendly 1-0 defeat against Hoffenheim and looked sharp at home, while in Equatorial Guinea Mashaba changed goalkeepers three times in three winless games before coming home with the worst defensive record of the tournament.

At home, Khune forced his way back in to the Kaizer Chiefs starting line-up – some might say he halted the traditional New Year slump at Naturena – before his red card in the 1-0 win over AmaZulu earlier this month.

Though I reckon he deserved to be sent off, Khune tweeted afterwards: “Its about time action is taken against this referees. They've been very poor since beginning of the season.”

He sent me this when I asked him if time-wasting had been part of his referee rant: “But I did nothing wrong. You guys need to take action against this poor referees.” There have been direct messages since, but those must remain private.

The PSL finally responded over the weekend, despite an abject apology, releasing this statement: “Mr. Khune was found guilty of bringing the League into disrepute by reason of statements made on social network Twitter. Mr. Khune was fined R50 000.00 of which R25 000.00 was suspended for 12 months on condition that he was not found guilty of a similar offence during the period of suspension. He was also ordered to pay the costs of the sitting of the Disciplinary Committee.”

With football manager Bobby Motaung and coach Stuart Baxter also fined, Khune did well to stay of twitter after this particular injustice. And it IS an injustice. Controversial, yes, like Mario Balotelli, but much needed in our game. We NEED our star players to have the guts to tell it like it is with a football writing fraternity far too ready to say YES to the authorities. Why punish him for his opinions?

Consider this: no footballer in South Africa has EVER been fined for social networking before. Why Khune? Why start now? Where is “thou shalt not tweet” in the list of top secret PSL commandments.

Remember, in February, when Orlando Pirates striker Lehlohonolo Majoro stamped on a player and had to be restrained by team-mates from attacking the referee against Platinum Stars, no action was taken by the “independent” Disciplinary Committee.

Effectively, the PSL are issuing a message to young players that goes along the lines of: “Violent conduct is fine, just don’t tweet your feelings.”

And on top of all this, with the nation watching every lick and spit of his rocky relationship with TV presenter Minnie Dlamini, over the weekend Khune found himself subjected to further headlines in the Sunday World, suggesting Bobby Motaung had told him not to celebrate with his AmaKhosi team-mates after the title-clinching 4-1 win against Polokwane City last week.

It has been a dreadful year for South Africa’s finest footballer over the last five years. In January, Bobby Motaung was quoted as saying the new contract would be signed “by the end of the week” instead he has quibbled and haggled with Khune’s England-based agents, who are seeking a lucrative deal including image rights and European-style bonuses.

So after fighting back from injury and dismissal and losing the captain's armband, after struggling through a very public relationship break-up and STILL helping his side to the championship with a series of vital clean sheets, Khune finds himself without a clear future, hoping somebody will rescue a stellar career.

But there is another option. Bobby Motaung, accused of all sorts of things by a “stalker” over the weekend, could relent and recognise the truth. Bobby has coach Baxter on the brink. He treated Jimmy Tau with incredible insensitivity. He was economical with the truth about Kingston Nkhatha's departure. It’s about time Bobby played the big man.

Itumeleng Khune MUST STAY. There’s still time for Bobby to change personality, ignore his own pocket for once. Show some loyalty. Push out the boat for a loyal servant. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

PITSO MOSIMANE NAILS IT: the full text of Mamelodi Sundowns coach's post-match interview. "Referee Thabo Nkosi stole the show"

Man of the match? Ref Thabo Nkosi
PITSO MOSIMANE was understandably upset after tonight's 1-1 draw against Mpumalanga Black Aces in Mbombela. The Mamelodi Sundowns coach, known for his post-match outbursts, was inconsolable after seeing his side denied a last-minute winner... and boy, did he let us know.

In a dramatic interview with SuperSport's ultra-professional Carol Tshabalala, Mosimane has probably landed himself in hot water with the PSL, but the man is nothing if not passionate. At one point in the interview, he simply couldn't talk as he choked up in fury over Bongani Zungu's "winner".

Though Pitso has a right to be furious - referee Thabo Nkosi had given the goal but changed his mind after seeing the linesman's flag - it did look like Zungu fouled goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane before scoring.

How they stand: the PSL table after draws for Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns tonight
Having chased down Kaizer Chiefs last season to clinch a long-awaited league title for Masandawana, the former Bafana boss came close to conceding to the AmaKhosi, who play resurgent AmaZulu tomorrow night with a seven point lead.

And at one point, Pitso called for referee Thabo Nkosi to win the Man of the Match award and compared him to the controversial Victor "Penalty King" Gomes, who once awarded FIVE penalties in a Sundowns match.

On a night when Orlando Pirates came from behind THREE TIMES to draw 3-3 as Platinum Stars striker Mogakolodi Ngele scored a brilliant hat-trick, Sundowns certainly battled their hearts out... but will their two dropped points decide the title?


PITSO: “It’s a game of two halves, first half, we let ourselves down by not picking up on the goal. I’m happy to be wrong, I think Dennis Onyango was fouled on the first goal… (stops, unable to carry on, overwhlemed by emotion)

CAROL: “I know it’s difficult to break it down without talking about the disappointment… looking at how they came out today, how do you think they can come back…?”

PITSO: “How do you motivate the players who work so hard, give their best, what do you say to them about all this?

“I think (referee) Thabo must be the man of the match, did very well, he stole the show, he reminds me of Gomes. He also steals the show. I don’t want to talk about Thabo's performance, he knows his performance.

“It’s unbelievable Carol. It’s unbelievable. You spend the whole year fighting to win the league and protect the league (title) but tonight, we’re asking for favours. It’s history for me how this title was won.

“But I have to accept. Because if I don’t accept they’re going to keep coming. The PSL’s going to come to me. And you know the story with Pitso. Check all the fines, all the fines received in the PSL, I’ve got the heaviest one but I’ve never been sent off."

CAROL: “But I’m concerned now. You’re saying it’s gone?”

PITSO: “I’m not saying it’s gone. Listen to me. If it’s gone, we’ll know how it is gone. Some of the things are not in your hands hey. What a change of decision there. Unbelievable. I saw the hand pointing the other way. It’s life, it’s football. Thabo stole the show.”

CAROL: “You feel as if the performance deserved three points?”

PITSO: “Before Mamelodi Sundowns won the league last year, it had been six, seven years, out of anything. We strengthened and we won the league last year. It’s going to be very difficult to win the league this year. But we will try our best.

“I don’t know what I’m going to say to the players, try hard or what? We pray for a miracle? It’s okay Carol. You know what’s hard? I work so hard eh, then somebody just takes it away.”

South African football is in crisis, and here's why (includes video)

ONCE A PIRATE: Irvin Khoza, PSL chairman
DISKI Mzanzi is in crisis. South African football faces falling attendances, a dying transfer market, a merry-go-round of FOURTEEN coaching changes in a 16-team league.

We have barely recovered from an AFCON which saw Bafana garne JUST A SINGLE POINT when both of our African Champions League "giants" - leaders Kaizer Chiefs and current PSL champions Mamelodi Sundowns - went crashing out in the first round.

There were no refereeing blunders, there was no intimidation, just humiliation. Failure.

This morning on the South African 24-hour news channel ANN7 (205 on your DSTV bouquet) I appeared on Peter van Onselen's "Phuka" morning show in an attempt to get across the true depth of the crisis facing our game. Though my football writing colleagues will rail against it and Twitter will issue threats, it's only the truth.

Denigrating South African football is not my agenda. Improvement, change, even revolution is needed. Just like Issa Hayatou, PSL chairman Irvin Khoza, the man who took over Orlando Pirates in the early 1990s, is in his late 60s and has been in charge of the game in this country for over 20 years.

And quite apart from the problems highlighted above, Khoza runs a club which closed its academy due to age cheating, he has refused to promote Eric Tinkler from his caretaker role despite unprecedented success and though his club pulls in MILLIONS in sponsorship, he refuses to spend money on his team.

He can't even run his club properly, let alone the PSL. And I am reliably informed it was Khoza who dictated the new conditions for agents in this country after FIFA's recommended treatment for "intermediaries"... though the legislation promised on April 1 has failed to materialise.

This is not an anti-Khoza rant, just a polite request for change. For truth. Though the South African media big guns - particularly Robert Marawa, Thomas Mlambo and the excitable Sunday Times "sports editor" BBK - will deny it, our game is not healthy.

As I say in the video below, our clubs don't scout for players, the rely on agents. Though there is a reputed R14,000-a-month minumum wage in the PSL, many youngsters are on a fraction of that. I know of one who has played 10 first team games this season and is on R2,000 a month. Another who played for Bafana at COSAFA and is on R6000... about the level of a supermarket shelf stacker.

From the bottom to the top - where Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates join billionaire Patrice Motsepe's Sundowns as the only clubs in the financial comfort zone - were are watching our game fall apart. There is no investment, no marketing, no sign of grass roots growth from Danny Jordaan's infamous FIFA Legacy Fund, a R500m post-World Cup 2010 bonus.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but it would be handy if a few people opened their eyes to the truth. Dr Khoza himself has acknowledged the influence of agents on our national head coaches; we have done NOTHING to establish who was involved in the pre-World Cup match-fixing scandal... SAFA won't even discuss their two most recent promises of a Technical Director and a statue for the murdered captain Senzo Meyiwa.

I don't make these things up. I don't enjoy endless repetition of the negative. But SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

CLOUT OF AFRICA: Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs crash out: two very different tales, one conclusion

Good night South Africa: Pitso Mosimane in DRC yesterday
And so the South African dream of Champions League progress has stuttered to a halt AGAIN. And the questions will be asked AGAIN. And the truth will be avoided AGAIN.

As PSL leaders Kaizer Chiefs and our defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns crashed out at Raja Casablanca in Morocco and TP Mazembe in the DRC, the sound of collective groans could be heard around Mzanzi as our precious diski folded under pressure once more.

The SuperSport commentators suggested from the off in Morocco that everything was against Kaizer Chiefs. It wasn’t. The AmaKhosi were the better side in both legs. They just can’t score goals. With no live television coverage again from Lumbumbashi, similar sentiments were echoed as Sundowns were crushed.

For Patrice Motsepe’s millionaires it was always going to be Mission Improbable. Pitso Mosimane said before the game: “If the officials do their job, we are through,” sadly that was never going to happen. A 3-2 aggregate defeat ensued.

After the 1-0 home win in Tshwane – which included a red card for the visitors – Masandawana found themselves 3-0 down after 57 minutes against TP Mazembe. And it was all they could do to produce a late consolation from Percy Tau against a side unbeaten in their domestic league after six games and just a point behind the leaders.

For Chiefs it was a slightly different version of the same sad tale. Beaten 1-0 in Durban in the first leg, they came up against a side currently in crisis. Raja Casablanca have lost their last two and are 12 points adrift of their city rivals in Morocco’s domestic league. But it made no difference.

Morgan Gould, mysteriously booked early on, was off injured after 43 goalless minutes and on came Tower Mathoho, mysteriously dropped from the starting line-up amidst a strong campaign so far.

Up front Golden Boot holder Bernard Parker – who has already been overtaken by New Zealander Jeremy Brockie in the PSL goal-scoring stakes this season – laboured next to the eternally risky Matty Rusike.

We can mention two moments: George Lebese’s glaring miss when through on goal early in the second-half and Gaxa’s ridiculous attempt to control a throat-high ball in his own box which led to the Raja goal. But that’s not the point. They were the better side and lost 3-0 on aggregate.

The usual excuses are already being wheeled out, but Roger De Sa – the coach who guided Orlando Pirates to the African Champions League final two short years ago – will tell you South Africa is continually fighting an uphill battle in CAF competitions.

While we invite our northern rivals to plush hotels with good facilities, PSL clubs travel north filled with trepidation for the away leg. While we struggle to pull crowds of 7000 at home, the African giants fill their stadia for every Champions League clash.

In truth, the truth we never dare tell, South Africa football – though shiny on the outside – is just not at the races. Our marketing is criminally negligent, the sponsorship money goes to pockets rather than development and foreign players are booed at every opportunity. Further north, they revere great players regardless of passport, they pump money in to the club, they establish academies, proper transfers and sharp agents are at work, regardless of whether their cut is 3 percent or 10.

In REAL football nations, the coaches work with football directors and club owners to create an outfit capable of continental domination – they don’t stand open-mouthed when a new signing appears, injured and unknown.

If AFCON 2015 and it’s meagre one-point haul wasn’t enough to wake us up, then the failure of BOTH our African Champions League hopefuls at the first hurdle has to be an alarm bell. Surely it’s time for change. At all levels.

It's not just the Champions League embarrassment is it, SAFA? We have match-fixing allegations STILL unsolved, we have a R350m FIFA World Cup legacy fund STILL missing; The much-hyped Senzo Meyiwa statue STILL not evident; the Technical Director STILL nameless.

Yes, I'm ranting. Because nothing is done. When Irvin Khoza tells SAFA how to deal with "intermediaries" we are left with a game that has no hope. No His own club, Orlando Pirates, has no visible academy while we hype  junior tournament run by a man arrested at last year's World Cup.

Khoza is the one who issued a decree saying agents can no longer claim more than 3 percent for deals, but his club relies on agents not scouts for new players. No other FA in the world made such decisions in the light of the new FIFA recommendations on "intermediaries"... now only the second-rate agents, who do dodgy deals with clubs and scalp players, will survive.

Danny Jordaan, no longer the new president, issues statements designed to please, but that's as far as it goes. There has been no real progress. All Danny has managed so far is to get Shakes Mashaba to pick our European-based stars after that disastrous AFCON, and even then Kamohelo Mokotjo flew back to FC Twente having sat on the bench for the entire 90 minutes against Nigeria last week.

These aren't just my complaints. I speak to coaches, players, agents. All are in agreement. The Champions League debacle follows on from the AFCON failure; the need for a decent striker permeates South African football. How about a "Search for a Scorer" reality TV show? How about employing Robbie Fowler or Michael Owen to come to South Africa and run goal-scoring sessions?

But no. We'll stick to Q innovation and an Asidlali boasting elderly has-beens; we'll put Owen Da Gama and Thabo Senong in charge of our youngsters despite questionable qualifications.

We'll let the small PSL clubs fall apart while the giants rake in the cash and refuse to splash out. We'll let PSL attendances fall below an average of 6,000 for the first time but keep the figures quiet, hoping nobody will notice.

And we'll let a couple of agents anonymously keep out fire coaches on the merry-go-round, ignoring the need for qualifications and quality CVs. Middendorp in, Middendrop out; Rosslee up, Rosslee down. It's a joke.

But the football writers will pat each other on the back. Choose their targets and favourites according to their particular biases. Back the status quo. Defend the Iron Duck, Bobby and Danny. And we'll never be a footballing nation. Never.