Saturday, 30 January 2016

SOWETO DERBY VERDICT: two insecure coaches, two poorly-run clubs, one point each

ON THE BRINK: Orlando Pirates coach Eric Tinkler
NEVER accuse me of not backing Steve Komphela, the current Kaizer Chiefs coach. Love the bloke. Good for the game.

I’ve backed “Mr English” for years… I suggested him for Bafana Bafana head coach when Pitso Mosimane was forced out, for Orlando Pirates when Roger De Sa left, then as Kaizer Chiefs coach when Stuart Baxter walked away.

But on Saturday afternoon, after a pretty routine Soweto Derby ended 1-1, Komphela’s outpourings, always easy to understand, verged on the inexplicable.

The former school master from Kroonstad told us: “We can relegate or elevate the PSL. It is our job to elevate. Perhaps it is time to invite international officials to South Africa.”

Essentially, Komphela - one of eleven children growing up in the Free State in the transitional 1980s - is doing what he always does. Seeking attention.

His style, immaculate in dress and voice, demands that we listen to a man who ran his own talk show when he played in Turkey - in Turkish.

Yes, Komphelikated is right. There are times when you look at a game in South Africa and think: it’s too much for this referee. Our officials are neither fit enough nor experienced enough to handle an 80,000 crowd baying for blood.

But this particular episode was curious. Komphela’s chiefs got the rub of the green on Saturday. The disallowed first half goal, a brush of the hand in the penalty area, an obvious advantage not played when Orlando Pirates were through on goal.

It was Eric Tinkler, under far more pressure, who gave the measured response: “Referees are only human. They make mistakes, we have to accept that, even when it affects lives.”

To my sensation-seeking eyes, Komphela appeared to be furious with the referee not because he was poor, but because he hadn’t given the mighty AmaKhosi the help they are now accustomed to.

Pirates are run by a 68-year-old who has dominated South African football for 30 years. Chiefs were created by a footballing legend whose son makes up his own rules. There’s not easy path for referees when these two super-powers come together.

But perhaps, if you can get past Komphela’s call for international referees, there are more obvious solutions to the problems facing South African football.

Both Pirates and Chiefs have now drawn more games than they’ve won this season. Two days before the biggest game of the season, the most prominent Buccaneer Kermit Erasmus went off and signed for Stade Rennes after claiming he was going to see the in-laws in Holland.

Neither club made a real signing during the transfer window - William Twala came from Chippa, but only thanks to a couple of loan rangers who were sent to Port Elizabeth - and in truth the Soweto Derby was a mid-table scramble.

Two poorly run clubs playing average football with a barely-acceptable level of entertainment in front of 80,000 fans. It’s been this way for years. Komphela barely pushed more than one player forward, Tinkler resorted to Rooi Mahamutsa’s long throw-ins as his major weapon.

And lurking in the background, the return of Stuart Baxter, replacing Gordon Igesund and SuperSport United. Not to mention the striker he recommended to Kaizer Chiefs, James Keene, now scoring freely for Wits.

It just doesn't make any sense. Ask last year's PSL player of the year Tefu Mashamaite or Chiefs top-scorer Mandla Masango, both now exiled in chilly Scandinavia.

Barely six months ago, Baxter led Chiefs to championship at Chiefs which destroyed dozens of long-established records. He left Naturena because Bobby Motaung refused to allow him a say in new signings. Will he now pose a threat to his old club?

At Pirates, Tinkler is still waiting for the “clear-the-air” meeting with Irvin Khoza which was promised after the CAF Confederations Cup final defeat last year. Screamer Tshabalala and Floyd Mbele barely reached for a pen during the transfer window, despite the long-term injury to Oupa Manyisa and the unexpected departure of Erasmus.

Tinkler goes from game to game, expecting the chop. How he does it is beyond me, he looked on the verge of a breakdown after half-time against Maritzburg United but still grabbed a point. But he has to go. We all know that. Will Igesund be in the frame? Is there anybody else?

These are not ordinary football questions. Nowhere else in the world will you find a league where crowd figures are top-secret, players simply disappear in mid-contract and clubs go through three or four coaches in one season.

So let's look at the head of this rotten fish. The truth is, Khoza and Motaung have held too much power for too long in South African football. It creates problems for our national team all the way down to our National First Division, where Santos coach Zeca Marques told me last week: “Neal, the NFD is pre-determined, it’s unbelievable.”

But our football stumbles on. We have analysts who refuse to offer honest opinions for fear of irritating Bobby and the Iron Duck. We have former professionals who no longer appear to offer their thoughts because they dared to be critical.

Komphela can complain about the officials all he wants. The truth is, in a nation famous for match-fixing and the phantom African Diaspora fund, referees are the least of our worries.

When our own Tokyo Sexwale can barely muster a vote from the rest of Africa in his bid for the FIFA presidency, you know the problems run deep.

Still, SAFA president Danny Jordaan’s second job - as mayor of Port Elizabeth - may soon be gone. Perhaps he’ll find time to fix things soon.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Woodwork lesson for Kaizer Chiefs: a rare defeat as Sundowns and Wits move smoothly on

Never smile at a crocodile: Rodgers, super-sub
SLOWLY but surely, Kaizer Chiefs were mounting a meaningful defence of their PSL title. Last week they needed a dodgy penalty to sneak past Bloemfontein Celtic. On Sunday, Platinum Stars hit the woodwork THREE times but appeared to be about to succumb by the same 1-0 scoreline.

It took a Camaldine Abraw header to best Cavin Johnson’s crocodiles in Cape Town, where nearly 20,000 turned up at the AmaKhosi’s second home.

With Mpumalanga Black Aces, the PSL’s Leicester City, slipping up at AmaTuks, Chiefs were looking to close the gap to just two points on the top three.

Then Eleazar Rodgers appeared off the bench. Minutes later, Johnson was celebrating a first Dikwena win over Chiefs in NINE YEARS. A stunning turnabout nearly left the verbose Steve Komphela speechless.

But not quite. After suffering just his SECOND league defeat all season, Komphela said: “When you look at the chances we had, this should not have happened.

“Results are all that matters. This was about concentration, a lack of ruthlessness, mentality. Their goalkeeper was Man of the Match again. That says it all.”

His rival Johnson could hardly believe it: “Kaizer Chiefs were unlucky. I gave Rodgers a chance and God was on my side.”

Rodgers, a Cape Town lad back playing on his home ground, laughed: "I've been out of the team for two games. Coach made me sit down after I'd warmed up, then I went on and did the business. I'm just so happy to do this here, to get three points for the coach."

The pressure on Komphela is huge, though he remains a lot more secure than his Soweto rival Eric Tinkler after Orlando Pirates lost to Jomo Cosmos. Steve still has a two-pronged problem: how to overhaul Wits and Mamelodi Sundowns, both convincing winners over the weekend.

On Friday night, the irony was obvious. James Keene, the English journeyman who trialled with Chiefs a year ago, produced a goal-poacher’s hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Polokwane City. Stuart Baxter recommended a contract for Keene, but Chiefs Football Manager Bobby Motaung failed to act.

Baxter, who left Chiefs after their record-breaking title triumph last season, recommended Keene to Gavin Hunt, and with four goals in three games, he has made an immediate impact.

Pitso Mosimane, unbeaten in 20 with Masandawana, put another nail in Gordon Igesund’s SuperSport United coffin to maintain his side’s place at the top of the table.

Komphela’s men may have been diligent with the woodwork lessons at Cape Town and they were ultimately Rodgered but their challenge remains significant. The fact that Camaldine Abraw’s slightly fortunate header takes him to TWO this season (half of Keene’s tally) highlights the problems Chiefs have in putting away weaker opposition.

Though they have depth and talent - Willard Katsande, Itumeleng Khune and Siyanda Xulu are quite a non-starting trio - Chiefs struggle to score goals, unlike Wits and Sundowns.

The social networks were abuzz when Abraw scored on Sunday without the need for a penalty or a helpful referee … but their failure to add a killer second goal was always going to result in nails being bitten.

The truth is, Bobby Motaung’s failure to sign Keene when he promised Baxter he would will haunt him for the second half of the season.

The final words from Komphela: “What can I do about missed chances? How can I change it?” There’s an obvious answer. Sign a striker who knows where the goal is.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

THE PENALTY KINGS! Kaizer Chiefs do it again... but questions have to be asked

ON THE SPOT: Willard Katsande again
THERE'S a trend emerging in the PSL. And it has to be talked about. Kaizer Chiefs, utterly ineffective up front but still in the title race, have been awarded FOUR PENALTIES in their last FOUR GAMES.

It's never comfortable having a go at South Africa's most popular club. They have a reputed following of 15 million in a nation of 60 million. They are an institution. They are the current champions. But it's getting hard to ignore the help they're getting from South Africa's sub-standard officials in recent weeks.

Here are the facts: Apart from the drab 0-0 draw with current leaders Mamelodi Sundowns, we have the Telkom KO final, the 2-1 win over Bidvest Wits and Sunday’s 1-0 win over Bloemfontein Celtic as evidence.

The two penalties in the final were simply laughable. Chiefs were never in the game. Referee Khulisani Qongqo offered Steve Komphela’s lacklustre troops a way back in TWICE but Siphiwe Tshabalala and Camaldine Abroad both saw their penalties saved by Man of the Final Dennis Onyango.

Triumphant Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane simply laughed about the spot-kicks afterwards: “You all saw it… you know” he said, and avoided another PSL fine. After all, it was December 16, Reconciliation Day.

Fast forward three days to the big League clash: Against Bidvest Wits in Cape Town on December 19. Gavin Hunt, slightly more aggressive than Mosimane, was beaten 2-1 after referee Daniel Bennett offered Chiefs another penalty - this time it looked a reasonable shout - amid a couple of crucial pro-Chiefs decisions, including a missed off-side for the winner.

Hunt said: “We knew Chiefs would get a start, you saw it, but what can we do? Wits are an unfashionable club. You know how it works.”

And so to Sunday in Bloemfontein. Good atmosphere, poor surface, not a great game. Chiefs were probably the better side but when Malawian Gabadinho “Frank” Mhango broke in to the box for Celtic and was tripped by Tower Mathoho, referee Thabo Mkosi immediately blew.

But was it a penalty? NO! He cautioned the unfortunate Mhango for “simulation” and Steve Komphela’s men were off the hook. At half-time, we all saw the replays. We all saw the truth.  Celtic had been robbed.

Then, with 70 minutes gone and not a goal in sight, Chiefs new signing William Twala, on as a sub for the lamentable Ugandan Sula Matovu, hit the post with Cameroonian goalkeeper Patrick Tignyemb getting a touch.

That looked like it was going to be the closest thing to a goal we’d see - until Twala fell over running in to the box with Aphiwe Lubisi minutes later. Former Orlando Pirates winger Twala, signed in some kind of swap deal with Chippa United which saw him “released from his contract” must be laughing like a drain.

Lubisi had a hand out as Twala went across him. He touched his back. There was contact. But then came the Olympic dive and the now-traditional PENALTY FOR KAIZER CHIEFS!

And who better to put it away than the Willard Katsande, for me the best defensive midfielder in the country. After those two Telkom final misses, Katsande - who celebrated his 30th birthday last Friday - assumed the responsibility against Wits. And he did it again in Bloemfontein.

Of course the AmaDrawsi - heading towards 8 draws out of 14 (and threatening SuperSport United’s 2012-13 record of 17 in a season) - won’t agree but it feels like Katsande is currently Chiefs best - perhaps only - threat. From 12 yards of course.

He now has as many goals as the once-prolific Bernard Parker (2) and with 16 games still to come in a poorly scheduled PSL, he could yet reach double figures if the penalties keep coming. Nobody deserves it more than Katsande, a humble, terrific character.

But the point is, people see the decisions. The penalties. My phone was red hot on Sunday with people involved in the game questioning another spot kick win for Chiefs, who have lost just once this season and are now FIVE short of Sundowns and Aces at the top.

But when Serame Letsoake came out to talk to Robert Marawa after the game, Chiefs coach Steve Komphela was asked to stay in the frame. And when the crucial penalty question came, the articulate former team-mate stopped the under-pressure Letsoake from replying.

“Of course it was a penalty, there was a shove,” said Komphela, talking over his rival. He then blathered on about enemies and friends and when he walked away, with Letsoake crying “Steve, Steve…” the penalty question was NEVER repeated.

I’m not saying the debate is deliberately avoided. Or that replays of these incidents are deliberately avoided by SuperSport in their bid to stay cosy, even AmaKhosi, with the big guns of the PSL.

All I’m saying is: WE SEE YOU. Four penalties, four games. Nobody can prove anything (though football and cricket match-fixing have been uncovered in this country several times in recent years) but it can’t be ignored.

The people who KNOW football are aware. Coaches, players, former referees and elderly journalists who have spent 40 years covering football all over the world. We know. It has to stop. Please.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Point taken: but perhaps South Africa's footballing giants need a little bit more than a pair of droopy draws

Of buses and coaches: Mosimane and Komphela
Drawlando Pirates. AmaDrawsi. Just had to make the point. Between them, the two Soweto giants have drawn more than they've won.

And there was not a lot to shout about as the PSL finally cranked back in to action with a pair of droopy draws for South Africa's biggest clubs.

Those long breaks which reduced most clubs to two games in two months certainly don’t help. First the U23s stopped the league for three weeks. Then the Telkom Cup and one league game before the three-week Festive Season.

Fortunately Bafana Bafana didn’t qualify for CHAN, or we’d have to consider a further break.

But hey. We were excited. Local football is back! But when Orlando Pirates failed to raise the Ghost against Platinum Stars the old problems were back too. Coach Eric Tinkler came out with his usual line after the 1-1 draw saying: “There’s no way I’ll resign. I’m not a quitter.”

Then: "If you look at the chances created, we are top. There were 60pts to play for before this game and we are going for all of them. It's difficult to get them but we have that belief"

"Do I feel the pressure? Yes. Nobody wants to fail. I came here to succeed, to win things. A lot of it also has to come from the players.”

All fair enough. All more or less what we’ve heard before. The social network Buccaneers have their knives out; they are after Tinkler’s head but with Irvin Khoza apparently unavailable, it’s unlikely the guillotine will fall soon.

The interesting bit will come when Pirates, now released from African tours after losing the final of the CAF Confederations Cup, get the jump on the four clubs that qualified for continental competition this season.

Champions Kaizer Chiefs and runners-up Mamelodi Sundowns are our African Champions League entrants, and with the league not even at the halfway point, the fixture congestion will surely bite if they get to the group stages.

But looking at their clash on Saturday night, that might not happen. Like it didn’t last season.

They met on Saturday night, the big two. And we were treated to one of the worst first halves I can remember - barely a chance worth mentioning - and though things improved in the second stanza, it was hardly the kind of stuff to frighten the likes of TP Mazembe.

Afterwards, bus-parking coaches Steve Komphela and Pitso Mosimane tried to persuade us it had been a fascinating clash of the giants.

Mosimane described the last 10 minutes as “like pound-for-pound heavyweight boxing, going for the kill” and Komphela assured us both sides tried to snatch it as “the game opened up”.

Fair enough. Tebogo Langerman’s 35m effort hit the post with Reyaad Pieterse stranded. George Maluleke made a hash of his one-on-one which might have been off-side. Khama Billiat forced a good save out of Pieterse on the near post.

But in truth it was dire. Komphela, as Pitso said post-match, sent his team out to defend too deeply. Often he had nine behind the ball, and there was much talk about Christmas being spent studying tactics.

That may or may not be true. What is obvious though is the utter lack of quality on show. While the faithful commentators assured us it was “like a chess game” and “end to end stuff” we watched, head in hands, as crosses were over-hit, control was lost and long balls were resorted to.

Remember, Chiefs and Sundowns are probably the best two teams in the country. Though we are not given figures as they did in the Premier League last week, they probably have the highest wage bills too.

But to see Maluleke’s glaring duff, Wayne Arendse’s free header missed, under-used Sula Matovu subbed after coming on as a sub, both defences hacking the ball long, was neither edifying nor entertaining.

The commentators won’t tell you this. Neither will the coaches. Nor will many in the media, though SuperSport Analyst Zane Moosa had the courage to call Chiefs AmaDrawsi at the finish, as I suggested to him weeks ago.

Truth is, the PSL is slipping behind. We don’t pay for big name foreigners during transfer windows (as I mentioned last week), we have long gaps in our fixture list, the pitch at Soccer City, as Pitso pointed out, was “just sand”.

None of these things help our game, with Bafana Bafana facing two make or break AFCON 2017 qualifiers against Cameroon at the end of March.

By then, I suspect long breaks will be long forgotten. The pressure will be on, particularly at Chiefs, Sundowns, Wits and Ajax.

And, hopefully, the standard will improve. Before fatigue sets in.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The South African transfer window: is it open or is it broken?

Forgotten man: Tenda Ndoro at Orlando Pirates
THE official PSL account on twitter announced it proudly at exactly 8am this morning: “The domestic transfer window is officially open.”

After that, just the creak of that opening window and tumbleweed blowing through the league’s offices in Parktown until the closing of a slightly cracked window at 5pm on Friday, January 29.

Sadly, the South African transfer system appears to be broken. Or at the very least, in need of a thorough clean. Every six months we talk about big moves that SHOULD happen, how our R9m record fee SHOULD be broken, how Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates SHOULD have enough money for a match-winner.

But it simply doesn’t happen. In fact, since Mamelodi Sundowns stopped spending Patrice Motsepe’s billions two seasons ago, our transfer market has become something of a joke.

While the rest of the football-speaking world lashes out record-breaking millions, the best a PSL club has ever managed was the reputed R9m Sundowns played Ajax Cape Town for Khama Billiat in August 2013.

In current terms, R9m amounts to about 400,000 British pounds. Even third tier clubs pay more than that in Europe. Remember, when they were still a Championship club, Bournemouth paid 2.5m (R70m) for Bafana Bafana striker Tokelo Rantie in August 2013, around the same time Billiat was leaving Cape Town for Tshwane. And he’s played 10mins in the Premier League this season.

The enormous fees paid in Europe cannot be matched in Africa... but the collapse of South Africa's fee-system remains a staggering but unwritten sensation.

There are obvious players who SHOULD demand more than R9m in the PSL today. Siphelele Ntshangase languishes with NFD club Black Leopards, teenager Phakamani Mahlambi and his Bidvest Wits team-mate Sibusiso Vilakasi should be tempting the Soweto giants.

And for lesser fees, Tendai Ndoro, Thabo Qalinge, David Zulu and Lehlohonolo Majoro are among the obvious targets as they warm benches at Pirates and Chiefs. And then you have the current PSL top scorers, Daine Klate and Collins Mbesuma, two men let go by the big clubs, plying their trade with significant success for Wits and Mpumalanga Black Aces.

So will we see a big transfer swoop this window? Probably not. In South Africa, coaches are rarely allowed to splash out money like they are in Europe. Here, technical directors and general managers do the deals directly with agents.

As I have documented here many times, Stuart Baxter left Chiefs because Bobby Motaung would not allow him a say on recruitment after last season's record breaking PSL title triumph. James Keene, the English journeyman who trialled brightly at Naturena, has just been snapped up by Gavin Hunt and Jose Ferreira at big-spending minnows Wits a year after Chiefs refused to make a move.

The problem is the agent/club link. Transfer fees are seen as money "wasted" when it can be split between the officials involved in the deal. The days of small clubs part-funding themselves with transfer fees from the giants appear to be over.

That’s why Tim Sukazi, currently the most successful agent in South Africa thanks to his strong links to national coach Shakes Mashaba, shifted his players around a year ago. Tshepo Gumede and Siyabonga Mpontshane went to Orlando Pirates while Tlou Segolela went the other way to Platinum Stars. All three were presented as BIG SIGNINGS but in truth, it was a swap deal which has resulted in very little for either club but a nice slice of the pie for everyone involved except the clubs.

When Kaizer Chiefs top scorer Mandla Masango and PSL player of the season Tefu Mashamaite were not given new contracts after winning the championship last year, neither of them could find a local club willing to step in. Incredibly, they both had to decamp to Scandinavia to get a game.

Meanwhile, Kaizer Chiefs announced the "big transfers" of Siyanda Xulu, Keegan Ritchie, Daniel Cardoso, Camaldine Abraw (amid some controversy), Bongani Ndulula, Edward Manqele and, later, an unknown Ugandan called Sula Matovu.

Oh, and they also tried to present Sibongiseni Ngcobo and Andisiwe Mtsila, two “academy” lads, as new signings, along with Lucky Baloyi, because he hadn’t gone out on loan. And, finally, they did a new deal with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, clearly on Bobby's terms.

Go through those names. Look for the transfer fees. Try to guess the salaries. These weren’t transfers, these were deals struck between Bobby Motaung and various agents. Neither the out-going Stuart Baxter nor new coach Steve Komphela had any say.

In truth, the European-style transfer swoop is dead in South Africa. That magical, morale-boosting grab, like Petr Cech going to Arsenal for £10million or Anthony Martial to Manchester United for £36million just won’t happen.

There is no transparency in our transfer market. Just as the PSL refuses to give us crowd figures, so we are denied ANY INSIGHT in to fees or salaries. Fans and journalists alike work in the dark. We know the big clubs have plenty of money - Vodacom, Carling and Absa offer millions - but we have no idea where it goes.

While the fans rush around talking in excited tones about Vilakazi going to Kaizer Chiefs after Bobby Motaung (illegally) said he wants to go, the agents are shifting around New Zealanders (five at the last count) and age-cheating journeymen in deeply dodgy dealings with the likes of Motaung and Screamer Tshabalala while their chairmen are given sketchy details.

SuperSport United led the way in the last window. Dean Furman, Bongani Khumalo and Michael Boxall all arrived from foreign fields (along with a couple of others from Down Under) and we all knew money was being spent but HOW MUCH? And WHY? Mike Makaab, fashionable when Gordon Igesund was Bafana coach, is now Stanley Matthews' best pal, along with a chap called Glyn Binkin, architect of such memorable deals as Katlego Mphela and Morgan Gould to Chiefs.

Just as South African football craves disappearing spray, goal-line technology, disciplinary reviews and referee assessments (and less mid-season breaks), so we need a transfer market that we can all see and appreciate.

Watch closely as this January transfer window saga unfolds. Look for real, serious signings designed to lift a club out of the doldrums. Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates get R50m a year from Vodacom. They should both be spending, given their current positions. Both coaches Steve Komphela and Eric Tinkler are under huge pressure... yet they have no say in who comes and goes.

R10m for Vilakazi, Ntshangase, Abbubaka Mobara or Mahlambi should be possible. Ndoro, Majoro, David Zulu and Ndulula should find new homes. But if certain people don’t get their cut, it won’t happen. If the right agent isn’t wandering around outside the gate with his cell phone, players will remain unhappy and unfulfilled. And so will the fans.

And we’ll end up with more mysterious moves of no-name foreigners and has-beens. 

Record-breaking transfers? Exciting last-minute deals? We can only hope. You have been warned.