Sunday, 27 September 2015

PERFECT TIME FOR A HOLIDAY IN SOUTH AFRICA: Baxter is back and Gord himself is sweating

NOT QUITE SECRET: Stuart Baxter and
his wife board the Gaurtrain on Friday

It was 9.30pm on a quiet Friday night when... in the space of a few seconds.... the job security of several PSL coaches dipped substantially.

The innocent beep of the SMS, and there it was. Stuart Baxter’s text message telling me: “This will be my temporary number while I am in South Africa…”

The number remains top secret of course. I wouldn’t have said a word. The former Kaizer Chiefs coach, winner of two PSL titles and three knock-out trophies in three short years at Naturena always said he was coming back.

Officially, the man who guided the AmaKhosi back to the big time, who finished last season with a record 69 points, is “only here with the missus to see some friends”. Unofficially, there was no stopping the news of Baxter’s return spreading like wild-fire through the football-speaking nation.

By lunchtime the next day, one tweep had seen him on a flight in to OR Tambo International Airport. Another had snatched the picture above, of Stuart and his Swedish wife Cecilia on the Gautrain. The word was out.

At 3pm the next day, we saw SuperSport United, with several of their expensive, high-profile signings out, fall to Cavin Johnson’s Platinum Stars. They were rubbish. The irony was not. SuperSport coach Gordon Igesund replaced Johnson at the helm last season, and spent MILLIONS on reconstruction with agents and officials rubbing their hands in glee.

They added two more to the Antipodean contingent spearheaded by Jeremy Brockie, and tempted not one but TWO former Bafana captains to join Gord’s crusade: Bongani Khumalo, who barely played in four years for Tottenham Hotspur, and Dean Furman, unable to persuade Blackburn Rovers or Bury to print out a contract over the winter.

With probably the best starting eleven on paper anywhere in the country this season, Igesund has failed to produce results. With the PSL now carefully put back in the box until October 17, SuperSport stand 13th out of our 16 Premier clubs.

Stanley Matthews, the canny CEO, wanted to put his club back among the big-hitters, remembering all too well Khumalo’s previous tenure at Matsatsantsa (Definition: Trendsetter, Swanky Boys) under Gavin Hunt when they won the PSL title three years in a row from 2008-2010.

A lot of money has changed hands. Expectations were sky high. Sadly, Igesund is struggling. He may have won the PSL a record four times with four different clubs, but as his reign at Bafana Bafana showed, there are weaknesses, not least of which his apparent lack of ability to adapt to modern players with big reputations.

Igesund is from the Sir Alex Ferguson school: Players are there to work, not drive about in fast cars and behave like David bloody Beckham.

So there we were on Saturday night, caught between Orlando Pirates' rousing 1-0 win over Al Ahly and Kaizer Chiefs' absorbing 1-1 draw at Ajax Cape Town… and Baxter appeared as a late recruit on our television screens to deliver a gentle verdict on his successor Steve Komphela.

Igesund won’t have missed the perfection of Baxter’s timing. With one win and two draws from six games this season, Gord’s improvement of Matsatsantsa’s form last season no longer matters. This term they have five points out of a possible 18, a goal difference of -5. Frankly, the millions invested were expected to produce a start to the season which didn’t raise fears of relegation.

Of course, Khulu Sibiya, the SSU chairman, denies everything: “I have not seen Stuart Baxter and none of my people have contacted him, they aren’t supposed to. We have a coach, Gordon Igesund. I expect him to finish his contract.”

But contact has been made. And Igesund IS under pressure. Just look at the colour of his face as his side slipped to that nightmarish 3-1 defeat against Johnson’s Dikwena on Saturday. Bright red.

There are others sharing similar concerns. Eric Tinkler’s discomfort was eased by Saturday night’s first leg CAF Confederations Cup win over the Egyptian giants, but Orlando Pirates fans insist he’s never been more than a space filler on their bench.

Pitso Mosimane, despite winning the PSL the season before last, found a loud sector of the Sundowns’ following baying for his blood in midweek despite a rousing last-gasp 3-2 win over Roger De Sa’s Ajax. A 2-0 win over Jomo Cosmos moves him up to sixth today and surely ends any sack race debate.

We could talk about Maritzburg United too. They tried to call Baxter a fortnight ago but (obviously) his mobile phone number had changed. They've opted for 72-year-old Clive Barker to lead them off the bottom, but his former club Mpumalanga Black Aces gave them a good tonking today.

And how about BafanaBafana? Baxter has been there before, but with Ephraim Mashaba looking particularly Shaky this year, few doubt the man from Wolverhampton would do a better job.

But in truth Baxter has always been in the SuperSport United cross-hairs. They have the cash, channelled from DSTV’s bulging coffers, and they have the players.  They just need somebody to put it together, seal a defence Igesund confesses is “simply not good enough”.

A Willard Katsande or a decent defensive central midfielder to the mix and SuperSport would soon rejoin the contenders, playing the canny Baxter way.

Sibiya can deny it all he wants. Baxter is the answer. And after walking away from Kaizer Chiefs at his peak when Bobby Motaung refused to let him have a say in player movement, he’d love nothing more.

Having been ousted just two games in to the season by Turkish club Gencerbigli a month ago, a holiday in South Africa was always on the cards. Let's see how long it lasts.


Baxter on his FIRST sacking:

Sunday, 20 September 2015

When Shaky Meyer apologised to the nation: doesn't anybody in South Africa know when to resign?

THE TWO STOOGES: Meyer and Mashaba
THIS is not life and death. It's sport. But as different parts of South Africa recover from the devastation of defeats to Arsenal, Kaizer Chiefs and the Springboks, it's important to consider THE NEXT STEP.

Obviously, there have been calls for Arsene Wenger's head for nearly a decade. And NOBODY is demanding the sack for Steve Komphela in his first season, despite Saturday's MTN8 final defeat against Ajax Cape Town.

But something CAN be done about the men who guide our major sports teams: Heyneke Meyer and Ephraim Mashaba. Here's where we begin:

Here’s what Shakes said after Bafana Bafana lost to Mauritania 3-1 in Nouakchott, a result which left the nation on ONE point from two AFCON 2017 qualifiers: “Why should I apologise? I have done nothing wrong. Apology for what? Didn’t this team ever lose? Did the people expect never to lose?”

And here’s what Heyneke Meyer said after the Springboks shock defeat against Japan in their opening Rugby World Cup clash in Brighton on Saturday: "We represent a proud nation and I apologise to the nation. We have got to take it on the chin and get back on track. As coach, I take full responsibility.”

Of course, saying sorry isn’t what it’s all about. South Africans would rather win that hear an apology any day.

And the truth is both our football and rugby national coaches SHOULD resign after a string of poor results with both round and odd-shaped balls.

But nobody in South Africa appears to have the balls to resign when they’ve cocked-up. Meyer and Mashaba will not doubt go on until they are paid-off, taking their lead from the nation’s politicians.

But there are crucial differences between the two failing national coaches, both of whom have broken records for unexpected failure in recent weeks.

Mashaba is NOT expected to beat teams ranked in the top 20 of world football. Japan were ranked 13 in the world of rugby union before their astonishing win over the Boks, probably the greatest shock since William Webb-Ellis handled the ball without a red card in 1823. 

Meyer has the chance to redeem himself against Samoa (12), Scotland (10) and the USA (15) while Mashaba must defeat Cameroon (42) twice, Gambia (142) and Mauritania (114) to qualify for AFCON.

It’s all a bit squiffy of course. Rugby is generally played by former English colonies (yes, parts of France were once British, so was the USA) while football has become the world game despite Webb-Ellis's best efforts.

That’s why, when we consider these disasters for our national games - here we must include the Proteas’ recent failure in Bangladesh - it’s important to consider levels of expectation.

Meyer is under far greater pressure on that front. Pool B of the current Rugby World Cup was considered the easiest of all. Now, having lost to Japan, there are serious concerns that he won’t even get to the quarter-finals. Personally, I think the Boks will make it that far and no further.

While Mashaba has gone off to AFCON and COSAFA and returned without a win, Meyer is expected to live up to the Bok reputation: two World Cup wins and a world ranking of 3 precludes failure to get out of the primordial pools.

Mashaba’s side are currently ranked 72 and sliding. They haven’t won in EIGHT competitive games (unless you count to CHAN qualifiers against mighty Mauritius) and in truth, nobody expects miracles.

We have Angola (88) FOUR TIMES in the coming montha. Two of them for CHAN qualification, then the two massive clashes which will decide which nation goes forward to the World Cup 2018 qualifying groups.

Even if Shakes gets past Angola, he must top the group and then win a play-off to get to Russia. His predecessor Gordon Igesund couldn’t even finish top of their group for Brazil 2014, despite eventual winners Ethiopia being docked points for fielding an ineligible player.

So we expect very little from Mashaba. Just the occasional win over friendly opposition - they go to Central America for to play Costa Rica and Honduras next month - and perhaps the odd Mandela Challenge triumph.

Mashaba can pick who he wants. He can ignore classy George Lebese and Dutch-based Kamohelo Mokotjo while selecting players who are not active for their clubs. He can make poor substitutions and dreadful team-talks for months to come.

But Meyer is firmly in the spotlight. After dozens of “Springbok Farewell” dinners and parades, every move he makes is under scrutiny. For heaven’s sake: he’s picked a 38-year-old fulcrum in Victor Matfield, he only picked eight players of colour and he appears as lost tactically as our old-fashioned Mashaba.

If Meyer wheeled out his son to ask questions in press conference or called our rugby writers "small boys" he'd be gone already. Shakes has no such problems.

What we can be sure of is this: Despite the loud backing of Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula - which doesn’t appear to help - both men are under huge pressure.

If Meyer doesn’t reach the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup, he’s gone. I’d pull Nick Mallett in from the cold to replace him rather than another dull bore (spell check). If Shakes Mashaba crashes against Angola, he’ll probably survive though Gavin Hunt and Steve Komphela, even Stuart Baxter, would do a far better job.

SAFA’s Dennis Mumble insists Shaky is safe “for two years” which is perhaps the most troubling statement I’ve heard since Steve Komphela said his side have adversity for breakfast.

I say: Do the honourable thing chaps. Heineken Meyer. Shaky Mashaba. Russell Domingone. Apologise when you fail the nation. And resign if you can't turn things around.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

LADIES FIRST: How Vera Pauw and Banyana have out-classed Shaky's Bafana. Calls for her head are simply IGNORANT

GOING DUTCH: Banyana boss Vera Pauw
GOT in to the most ridiculous debate on Twitter this morning. I was amazed to find South African football tweeps calling for the head of Vera Pauw, head coach of Banyana Banyana, our women’s team.

Yes, there they were (I won’t pick out the ignorant by using their twitter handles), insisting Banyana - who can’t even keep their twitter account up to date (@banyana_banyana was last updated 45 days ago) - were on the slippery slope under their Dutch leader and that she must be sacked.

This came barely 24 hours after Banyana had been forced out of the All African Games in Brazzaville by Ghana - on the toss of a coin. The two sides had finished equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, and Ghana won the lottery, going on to beat Senegal in the semi-finals today.

So Ms Pauw and her squad were, in theory, denied a gold or silver medal in the Congo BY A COIN TOSS.

Take note: Her campaign ended unbeaten. Banyana drew both their group games against Cameroon and Ghana after Egypt withdrew. But remember this: the men failed to even reach the Congo, going out to Sudan 2-1 in the play-off while our women crushed Botswana 6-0 to book their flights.

And here were these blokes on twitter telling me she should be sacked. Sure, Portia Modise, our greatest female striker, retired, and Banyana failed by ONE SPOT to reach the women’s World Cup in Canada when they finished fourth rather than third in AFCON.

We won’t mention that heart-breaking AFCON defeat in Namibia against Cote D’Ivoire, whose captain failed to produce proof of her gender amid a huge furore. The Ivorians went on to lose their opening World Cup clash 10-0 against Germany.

This was what Pauw said afterwards: “My players are all sensational and, had they had a chance at the World Cup, almost all of them would be snapped up by overseas clubs.

“That’s the really hard part about missing out on Canada, the fact that lives could have been changed had we got there.”

But let’s compare this to our old friend Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, the man who runs the men’s team. The man who these strange tweeps continue to defend despite all evidence to the future.

While our women reached the semi-finals, Shaky finished with ONE point in an Equatorial Guinea campaign widely lampooned by those who actually know football.

Then he lost twice at COSAFA against Botswana and Malawi on penalty shoot-outs before the current AFCON 2017 qualifying debacle featuring a home draw against Gambia - the smallest nation on mainland Africa - and an away defeat against modest Mauritania.

Not only that, Shaky was feted for his performance in Equatorial Guinea. He was roundly congratulated for being the worst side in the tournament, equal with Burkina Faso. Shocking.

This was the man who told us we would use the “spirit of 96” to conquer Africa, though he treats the actual heroes who played in that campaign with disdain.

Shaky actually went a Springbok leap further than our endless Rugby World Cup speeches from Fikile Mbalula and ASSURED US we’d conquer Africa.

But then, at various times, he’s said we should be topping the FIFA rankings (we’re 72 and falling under his guidance, Banyana are 59th and rising), were aiming to win the World Cup (Russia 2018 or Vision 2022, we’re still not sure) and, infamously, he insisted any critique of his old-fashioned, agent-driven regime was due to the fact he is black.

Amid all this nonsense, Vera Pauw has quietly moved forward with our women, denied World Cup qualification and All Africa Games medals by a hairs’ breadth. She never said we’d conquer anybody, just did her best to produce results without rotating goalkeepers and captains.

In case Shaky fans need it repeating, Bafana (using an U23 squad) failed to qualify for the All Africa Games. And with home and away games against Cameroon to come in Group M, where Shaky lies rock-bottom, our chances of qualifying for AFCON 2017 are just about gone.

After a friendly trip to central America, Shaky has to rouse his trips for FOUR successive games against dangerous Angola, the first two for CHAN qualification, the second two to reach the World Cup qualification group stages.

Obviously, we wish Mashaba well in his efforts. But given the way he’s been insulting journalists and getting his son Jabu to ask questions in press conferences, he doesn’t appear to have much confidence in his own ability.

Vera Pauw is a different matter. To call her credentials in to question is simply IGNORANT. But did the great Robert Marawa or BBK step forward to defend her having been copied on the tweets? Did they heck.

Today the South Africa Football Association’s Dennis Mumble insisted Mashaba was safe “for two years” and talked of “Vision 2022” in the absence of his president Danny Jordaan, now the mayor of war-torn Port Elizabeth.

I hope both Jordaan and Mumble read this. I’d give Vera Pauw more time, unless she wheels out a Dutch daughter to ask questions in a press conference.

But I’m not sure about Mashaba. And, at last, the rest of the South African football media are starting to realise that truth.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Shakier and shakier: Bafana boss Mashaba's "second job" unsanctioned by SAFA and the nation is left reeling once more

Utter banker: Mashaba in his Nedbank KeYona gear
SHAKES MASHABA's appearance as coach for Sunday's KeYona defeat against Mamelodi Sundowns was NOT sanctioned by the South African Football Association.

SAFA's head of communications Dominic Chimhavi, when asked about the national coach's decision to coach the amateurs less than 24 hours after the Nouakchott humiliation, said: "The Nedbank Keyona match is something we must definitely look at . It is NOT a SAFA-sanctioned event."

Incredibly, Mashaba took charge of Nedbank XI in their 2-0 defeat against Downs without SAFA's permission and insisted: "It was a day off for Bafana." He appeared entirely unfazed by his unsanctioned "second job" where his select side have yet to score a goal against the annual Nedbank Cup winners.

Further credibility was lost when Mashaba came out wearing his Bafana mantle and insisting: "We still have a 50-50 chance of qualifying for AFCON 2017" after seeing his side manage just one point against Group M minnows Gambia (0-0 at home) and Mauritania.

It appears Mashaba is NOT AWARE that only the group leaders qualify by right for AFCON next year in Gabon. Only the best runner-up from the 13 groups will join them. If it wasn't so   serious, it would be laughable.

Bafana go in to their next two qualifiers against perfect group leaders Cameroon - who have NEVER lost a home qualifier in 30 years of African Nations Cup action - hoping to make up a FIVE-POINT deficit after the Indomitable Lions won 1-0 in Gambia on Sunday.

With Senegal to come tomorrow night in the Nelson Mandela Challenge at the Orlando Stadium, Mashaba insists: "We need to bounce back by scoring goals and winning, nothing else. I think winning the game tomorrow will change the mood. I was also happy that the mood was vibrant this morning playing on a field divided into three and combinations were there.”

Those are typical words from Mashaba, who has always insisted: "I'm doing a good job" in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The truth is, a friendly win over an under-strength Senegal means NOTHING. 

Before South Africa’s disastrous 3-1 defeat in Mauritania on Saturday, he told us "We will win this one" and the nation was left reeling once more by perhaps the most inept, passionless performance yet from our national team.

On their own, I wouldn’t attack our BafanaBafana coach for his ridiculous outbursts of optimism. But taken in conjunction with his outpourings before AFCON, the home-based COSAFA Cup and his promise that his ailing side would top the FIFA  rankings and win the World Cup, it has to stop.

Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba was looking for his 23rd win in charge of Bafana in Nouakchott, which would have pushed him beyond AFCON-winner Clive Barker at the top of the all-time rankings.

But from the moment we kicked-off in a nation infamous for being the world’s leading owner of slaves, the world’s 72nd best nation were struggling against a side ranked 114.

Best not even discuss captain Itumeleng Khune’s blunder for the early goal, a harmless long-distance free-kick which slipped through his hands.

And it’s no good lamenting the red card given to Platinum Stars debutant Siyabonga Zulu, the left-back cut down his opponent when through on goal. He had to go.

But in truth neither of those match-changing incidents are the fault of our controversial head coach, who was leaping about for Nedbank in the KeYona Cup match without a care in the world on Sunday.

Mashaba’s problems are many and varied, with one point in Group M after two games against the “minnows” just one of his major worries.

When he took the job, the man SAFA president Danny Jordaan described as “the cheapest option” sent South Africa roaring to AFCON qualification with some panache, though it might be argued ousted Nigeria were hardly at their strongest.

But since then, with one point earned in Equatorial Guinea with three goalkeepers and those COSAFA Cup penalty shoot-out defeats against Botswana and Malawi, things have dropped off alarmingly.

If you include the final AFCON 2014 qualifier against Nigeria, a 2-2 draw, Mashaba’s  Bafana have not won a competitive match for eight games, unless you count the CHAN qualifiers against not-so-mighty Mauritius.

And Mashaba has veered away from Jordan’s “Vision2022” concept, so carefully articulated, and gone for older, allegedly wiser heads as his team crumbles.

The one youngster he has stuck with, Ajax Cape Town centre-back Rivaldo Coetzee, was ruthless exposed by Mauritania’s 2nd and 3rd goals; two excellent finishes which involved more than a touch of poor defending in front of Khune.

We could talk about Mashaba’s selection process - all too often he goes for players who are not even playing for their clubs, mostly the clients of two major South African agents - and we could debate his rotation of both goalkeepers and captains.

We could talk about his strange substitutions - on Saturday he put on a second left back instead of a midfielder in the 52nd minute and pulled off Dean Furman instead of the ineffective Andile Jalie in the 62nd.

But ultimately the problem for Mashaba is this: South Africa after their initial success under his latest spell no longer look inspired. They were insipid from the kick-off in Nouakchott, they lacked urgency and played like a bunch of strangers who had never met.

In short, it looks like Mashaba has, to use a cliche, “lost the dressing-room”. His team-talks are nonsensical (I cannot reveal the two sources for this suggestion), his tactical nous non-existent and his ability to switch to Plan B has yet to be witnessed.

With Kaizer Chiefs former coach Stuart Baxter currently on the market after a chaotic two-match spell in Turkey, Mashaba should be looking over his shoulder. And with only one team assured of progress from Group M, things are already looking bleak.

But here’s the problem. SAFA net president Jordaan is embroiled in political affairs as the mayor of troubled Port Elizabeth. Neil Tovey has been appointed Technical Director but it’s clear Mashaba wants him nowhere near his team.

And the man who has never won a trophy or coached a club side has no mandate. Nothing was said as he tore up the Vision2022 blueprint, nothing was said when he banned May Mahlangu and appeared to punish Kermit Erasmus for a tweet while ignoring Tokelo Rantie’s no-show for the awful home draw against Gambia.

Nobody appears to be able to tell Mashaba what to do. His scouting before Mauritania consisted of “trying to search for information” and “they lost a tight game against Cameroon”. Though they played on an artificial surface, Bafana  trained on turf before the game.

After half-time, the players emerged waving their hands about, pointing, gesticulating as they tried to interpret Mashaba’s half-time team-talk.

There was no pattern to Bafana’s play, precious little in the way of goal attempts other than Thamsanqa Gabuza’s brave header for South Africa’s goal.

Since he picked his controversial AFCON squad at the start of the year, Mashaba has done little right. Friendlies apart, he has failed repeatedly to produce results as South Africa slide down the FIFA rankings.

But with a friendly against an under-strength, last-minute Senegal at Orlando tonight, Mashaba knows there is no threat to his reign. A win in the Mandela Challenge will have his yes-men whooping once more.

And nothing will be done to restore this nation’s tattered football reputation.