Sunday, 25 September 2016

Conquering Africa the Sundowns way: Pitso Mosimane defies the odds once more

SPECIAL ONE: Mosimane with one eye on Mourinho
"IS THIS STILL THE BACK DOOR?" Pitso Mosimane, Mamelodi Sundowns.

Before a ball has been kicked, the 2016 African Champions League final has to go down as one of the most bizarre in the competition’s history.

Oryx Douala of Cameroon won the very first continental club championship back in 1965 and South African clubs have always struggled to make their mark - Orlando Pirates famously won it in 1995, reaching the final again just three years ago. The Buccaneers apart, Mamelodi Sundowns are the only other PSL side to get that far, losing in the 2001 final to Egypt’s Al Ahly.

The pesky Cairo-based rivals have dominated the competition. The “Red Devils” of Al Ahly holding the record of eight wins (1982, 1987, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2013) and the “White Knights’ of Zamalek have done it five times (1984, 1986, 1993, 1996 and 2002).

Saturday night saw Zamalek, apparently coasting to the final after a 4-0 home win, lose 5-2 to Wydad Casablanca, who had sacked veteran Welsh coach John Toshack after the first leg.

Incredibly Wydad were 5-1 up with 26 minutes left, needing just one more goal to go through when Zamalek’s Nigerian Stanley Ohawuchi sealed the deal for the White Knights.

But what about Sundowns? They were 2-1 down after the first leg in Ndola against Zesco United, attempting to become Zambia’s second finalists after Nkana Red Devils, who lost on penalties way back in 1990.

Needing a 1-0 win to survive on away goals, Liberian Anthony Laffor got that vital strike before locally-produced Percy Tau sealed the deal - though an away goal for Zesco, who hit the woodwork, would have forced a draw even at 2-0.

Having been knocked out of the Champions League before the group stages by AS Vita and then the CAF Confederations Cup by Medeama, Sundowns - reinstated when it was found Vita had fielded an ineligible player - journey to the final is unique in world football.

But their form since then gives real reason for optimism for South Africans hoping for a first continental triumph in 21 years. After an opening 2-1 win at Algeria’s ES Setif - who were disqualified for crowd violence after the match - Pitso Mosiman’s men beat Zamalek home and away to qualify for the semi-finals with plenty to spare in Group B. 

Mosimane, the former Bafana Bafana national coach, was headed off to watch Copa America when Sundowns were given their lifeline back in to the competition. Many of his players were on holiday and had to be recalled for the opening Group B game in Algeria.

After a rare three game winless streak, Sundowns came back to reach both the domestic MTN8 and CAF finals in the space of four days. Pitso explained: “It’s very difficult for a team to beat Sundowns home and away, over 180 minutes you need to be very good.

“But the boys did very well. Feet on the ground, one step at a time. Sugar Mabunda unbelievable. Percy Tau scored, I’m happy. I’ve been needing this goal. Percy scores in Champions League, and he scores with his head in Champions League.

“As long as they our fans support us, as long as they sing their lungs out, the boys respond. We kept consistent at home. Two goals and a clean sheet.

“Zesco is a very good team and playing in Ndola and Atteridgeville are totally different stories. I think the boys deserve credit, they’ve done very well”

“We’ve been playing football for 15 months, non-stop, it’s not possible, and that’s why we are not fresh as usual.

Mosimane had words for Manchester United fans, who also recovered from a three-game slump this week: “Jose Mourinho issued a statement because he lost three games. If he was in South Africa, do you know what would have happened? They would have asked him for a meeting, for a technical report, he must explain why the team is not winning.

“But this is the licence that we get from Manchester United to say ‘don’t write us off’ and let’s keep going. So, against all odds, a luta continua, vitoria certa, we don’t need anybody’s favour.”

“We came from nowhere and on holiday to the cup final, we deserve it. I know they said we went through the back door, but I don’t know how we qualified for the final … is this still the back door?”

Saturday, 17 September 2016

WHO DO WE BELIEVE? SAFA or the BBC: Is Shakes Mashaba a dead boss walking?

SUITS YOU: Mashaba on Saturday with SAFA's Mumble
WITH time running out before the start of Africa's 2018 World Cup qualifiers next month, South African football remains in limbo, caught between #shakyin, #shakygone and #shakyout.

Amid the bickering between shaky SAFA and the highly respected BBC Sports website on Saturday, we can narrow the chaotic argument over Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba’s future down to three alternatives.

1 Shaky could be fired on Wednesday night by the SAFA technical committee. This is the TRUTH according to the BBC’s African football correspondent Osasu Obayiuwana, who quotes a Saturday morning conversation with SAFA president Danny Jordaan.

2 Mashaba will stay on for the World Cup qualifiers despite his disastrous AFCON 2017 qualifying campaign which left South Africa third in Group M. This is the TRUTH according to SAFA communications chief Dominic Chimhavi, who says Shakes must be left to “complete his mandate” by qualifying for Russia 2018.

3 The national head coach will be fired if he fails to manage four points against Burkina Faso on October 8 and Group D favourites Senegal on November 7. This appears to be the compromise option suggested by those who fear a civil war between Jordaan and the Shaky faction at SAFA.

There is no official line on Mashaba’s future, despite Jordaan saying after the draw against Mauritania last month: “I think it’s a disappointing performance. This must be the end of the journey, not the beginning, because this cannot lead us into the World Cup campaign, where we will play the giants of the African continent.”

After the friendly win over Egypt four days later, Jordaan went silent despite reports he had a replacement lined up for Mashaba, the man he called “our cheapest option” on the day of his appointment in July 2016.

But on Saturday morning, Osasu Obayiuwana dropped a series of devastating tweets followed by a story on the BBC African Football website suggesting Mashaba’s turbulent, head-rubbing reign was indeed over.

He quoted Jordaan saying: "Mashaba just has to go. The outcry is too much. The SAFA exco will discuss this matter on Wednesday.

"In the case of non-performance, he is entltled to a pay-off of 3 months wages.

 "We have to get a new coach in place, before our opening World Cup qualifier. This is very important.”

SAFA’s Chimhavi exploded in to action. He called me to insist “the Nigerian is being malicious” and said I had to back him as I had “so many twitter followers”, he asked me to call him “a SAFA spokesman”.

But that was difficult. On Twitter, the excitable Chimhavi said: "What you are saying is ill-advised, wrong and malicious. IT'S NOT TRUE” and he said Osasu was “digging his own grave”.

But Mr Obayiuwana calmly responded with the EXACT time of his interview with Jordaan, and how long it took (6mins and 28secs). He told Chimhavi to take his complaint directly to the BBC. He asked: “Are you saying I manufactured the convo?”

While that battle rages on, long-suffering South African football fans remain in the dark. Chimhavi insists Mashaba will name the Bafana squad for the trip to Burkina Faso as usual and that SAFA will not discuss his future this week.

Chimhavi is nothing if not enthusiastic. He tweeted: “Statement by sensationalist Nigerian journalist is malicious and incorrect. I'm with Mashaba & SAFA CEO as we speak.”

While Jordaan, who called football “just a hobby” when he went off to lose the ANC mayorship at Nelson Mandela Bay, replied to my asking if Mashaba was gone with one word: “No.”

The truth, from where I sit, has to be influenced by this message from Osasu: “Neal, I stand by every word I have written.” Our debate, both openly on twitter and via direct messages, clearly indicates he spoke to Jordaan.

And as we head towards the World Cup qualifiers, SAFA remains in chaos. The president is directly contradicted by his communications director. Chimhavi denies Mashaba is a dead boss walking.

Yet I know of at least one coach claiming he has been offered the Bafana Bafana job. And another, foreign-based, who is in contact with somebody at SAFA about the role.

Somebody, please. Save us from SAFA. Nobody wants another World Cup qualifying failure.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

EXPOSING THE SHAMBLES AT SAFA: was AFCON 2017 qualification mandatory for Shaky? Will NOTHING be done before the World Cup qualifiers?

WHAT A TWIT! On Sept 6, Chimhavi says Mashaba's
only mandate is Russia 2018, Afcon 2017 failure is
clearly of no consequence to SAFA
THE rumblings at SAFA House have been bothering the nation since it our national football body built its R150m headquarters with FIFA Legacy Fund money before the 2010 World Cup had even kicked off.

It’s an uncomfortable place, lying in the shadow of Soccer City, the fading edifice now called the FNB Stadium, where crowds are becoming more and more difficult to draw as South African football tumbles down the slippery slope of maladministration.

Dominic Chimhavi, SAFA’s Head of Communications, neatly sums up the mess in a organisation where the elected president Danny Jordaan turned his back on football to lose the mayoral election in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Jordaan and I have been through the mill. I backed him to the hilt in the SAFA presidential elections, we met for lunch a couple of times at Nelson Mandela Square, he showed me how much of the FIFA World Cup legacy fund remained (I still have the documents, I’ve displayed them on television, still not seen significant grass roots spending) and when I stood up against national coach, Gordon Igesund for being influenced by agents, Danny came calling.

As the only journalist to actually give evidence to the Arendse Inquiry, I expressed concern when Ephraim Mashaba, know to be a client of super-agent Tim Sukazi, was given the biggest job in South African football in July 2014 after Igesund’s contract was not renewed.

But, as Jordaan explained, Shaky was the cheap option, Carlos Queiroz only heard the news that he was too expensive throught the media, having agreed to return to South Africa during Igesund’s CHAN 2013 failure on home soil.

Jordaan promised Mashaba would be tutored in modern tactics and methods by FIFA’s technical guru Gerard Houllier, he said a closer eye would be kept on agent influence, Dr Irvin Khoza came out and said Shaky was the first Bafana coach NOT to listen to agents.

But the predictable soon happened. After a successful 2015 Afcon qualifying campaign, Mashaba’s selection for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea was laughable. Strange names cropped up, Thulani Serero was thrown out. He rotated goalkeepers and captains, had no idea how to maintain a lead, and came home after a five-day disappearance with just one point.

By then SAFA was scrabbling for cover.  Jordaan told me Mashaba had NO mandate when he took the job, though Igesund was told finish top four in Afcon 2013 and qualify for Brazil 2016.

But as we drew with minnows Gambia at home and lost to Mauritania 3-1 on an artificial surface we weren’t prepared for, it became clear Mashaba had no idea how to run a national football team in the modern game. In 10 AFCON games since the away draw against Nigeria in late 2014, Bafana have won 1, drawn 6 and lost 3.

After the final draw against Mauritania at home this month, Bafana Bafana found themselves with 7 points, everyone knew they were OUT weeks before, yet SAFA hung on, saying they would not act until after the final game.

Curiously, after that match, the returning Jordaan (who said as mayor football was “just a hobby” and he “had never been paid a penny” in his SAFA role) said: “This must be the end of the journey, not the beginning, because this cannot lead us into the 2018 campaign, where we will play the giants of the African continent."

That led to some serious speculation. It look like the Mandela Challenge would be Mashaba's last game in charge, there were reports of a big-name foreign coach being appointed, from sources within shadowy SAFA House.

But the #shakyout campaign had about as much hope as #feesmustfall. The friendly 1-0 win over Egypt followed and there was Chimhavi telling me SAFA net would NOT  be discussing Mashaba’s future at the meeting over the weekend and that “the coach has to see through his mandate of qualifying for Russia 2018”. Fortunately I have a picture of this stunning tweet, which was retweeted by @safa_net.

So that, it appears, is that, for the #shakyout campaign. But people keep asking about Mashaba’s demise, so I tweeted THIS on Saturday:

Yes, as I've said repeatedly, @dchimhavi says #shaky's mandate was to qualify for WC2018, not @AFCON2017 @WASINATOR_95 @SAFA_net

Unbelievably, Chimhavi then tweeted: “When did I say that? Don’t put words into my mouth Mr Collins; teaching young journos bad traits”

DROWNING IN DENIAL Chimhavi digs deeper
So what’s a man to do? Look, I like Dominic, we travelled together with the AmaJimbos and I did a lot of work with the U17s thanks to him, and enjoyed his company.

But subsequent promises of travelling with Bafana to see Shakes in action first hand came to nothing on numerous occasions.

How can this man accuse me of misleading people when his tweet is clear as a bell: MASHABA’S MANDATE WAS RUSSIA 2018. Chimhavi said it. Afcon 2017 failure, a deep and significant blow which saw us come THIRD in the group, was rendered meaningless.

Now we go in to a World Cup qualifying campaign against might Group D rivals Senegal, Cape Verde and Burkina Faso, a far more daunting prospect than Cameroon, Mauritania and Gambia in AFCON 2017 Group M.

And Chimhavi tells us Mashaba’s failure will not matter. Has the report on South Africa’s disastrous campaign been delivered? Why did Shaky keep picking players not good enough for their clubs? Why did he treat Kamohelo Mokotjo so badly he retired from Bafana? Is there a correlation between certain agents and selection? Why is Shaky still involved in KeYona after being clearly told it wasn’t acceptable by SAFA?

But none of these questions matter. According to SAFA’s “head of communications” Mashaba’s mandate was World Cup 2018. In other words, he hasn’t even started yet.


Sunday, 4 September 2016

From Shaky to shakier: Mashaba said "something special is brewing" but it was just decomposing

TIME TO GO: Ephraim "Shakes" Mashaba
ONE win in months. An endless list of excuses. Failure to address deep-seated failures in the organisation. Lacking qualified leadership. No, we're not talking Kaizer Chiefs. Or even the ANC. It's SOUTH AFRICAN FOOTBALL we have to worry about.

Our PSL ground to a halt after one game, with the opening round suffering record low attendances. For the first time in living memory we don't have a player in the top 5 leagues in Europe. Our national football team continues to hit new lows.

Thank God for Mamelodi Sundowns, I say. And yes, they are coached by the coach SAFA threw out.

Like a broken record, Pitso Mosimane's successor Ephraim Mashaba drones on. And on. A 1-1 home draw against a 10-man nation of slave owners. But listen carefully. Mashaba’s saying nothing. He’s going nowhere.

Third in Group M. Out of AFCON 2017 months ago, though neither coach nor president appeared to notice. One point from two games against Mauritania, ranked 104 in the world.

No admission of guilt from Shakes. No apology to the nation. Just a bizarre utterance concerning Zimbabwe’s Kharma Billiat, when Dino Ndlovu and Kermit Erasmus, resurrecting their striking careers on foreign fields, are ignored again and again by our national head coach.

As a lesson in motivation, Mashaba’s views on his strike force are best ignored. But here it is: "All the top strikers in the league are foreign. If I can have a player like Khama Billiat, then maybe we’d score more.”

But then Mashaba’s post-match comments cannot be expected to measure up to somebody like, say, Kaizer Chiefs coach-cum-poet Steve Komphela.

On June 5 this year, Mashaba said: "Can this be one of the best Bafana Bafana teams ever? Something special is brewing." Arrogant. Delusional. Out of touch. His current squad rarely rises above the awful.

He's even talked about winning the World Cup, in his mind, his team "completely dominates" every team Bafana plays against, he eagerly suggests the non-playing stars in his line-up will come good, it’s been this way since the 2-2 draw with Nigeria in 2014.

Up to that point, we were happy to put up with his bizarre lack of tactics, his weird decisions, that inexplicable head-rubbing goal celebration.

But by the time he’d selected his AFCON 2015 team, throwing out Thulani Serero in a deceitful rage, we were starting to suspect Mashaba wasn’t all he seemed. We finally began to understand why he hadn’t been snatched up to manage a club or left South Africa’s youth set-up apart from a brief failure with Swaziland.

There’s more: after the Mauritania debacle, the decision to let his old favourite Thamsanqa Gabuza take the penalty, the fact we didn’t try to exploit the visitors’ red card, the total lack of imagination.

Here’s more: “The way the boys are playing, I don’t doubt we’ll qualify for the World Cup,” he boasts, just before our qualifying group rivals Senegal became the ONLY side to qualify for Gabon next year with a perfect record.

And then: "We are really looking forward to qualifying with the team we are setting up, but we have one problem; how are we going to sort out the scoring problem?”

But that’s where this all started. We go in to the Mandela challenge against Egypt full of hope. South Africa have been winning friendlies and losing competitive games for decades. Remember the 2010 World Cup warm-ups? Unbeaten for months. The dodgy 3-0 win over Mali in Gabon just before AFCON 2015?

Best not examine those games too closely. They have given Mashaba an apparently impressive overall record 37 games, with 17 wins, 16 draws and just four defeats.

But look closer. Go back to that last AFCON 2015 qualifier in Nigeria, drawn 2-2 after two superb Tokelo Rantie goals. Since then, Bafana have played 10 Afcon games. Just one win, 7 draws, two defeats. You get a clearer picture. The real picture.

Mashaba is tactically bankrupt. He has no idea how to change a game with substitutes. Mr Rotation doesn’t even know who his captain, goalkeeper or penalty taker might be. He chooses players, as so many Bafana coaches before him, by listening to the loudest agent.

And for those, like me, who thought a technical director might help control a man who gets his son to ask questions in press conferences, Neil Tovey has been the biggest disappointment of all. Silent on all fronts, apart from SuperSport TV where he is paid for his views while pulling a big salary from SAFA. Unbelievable.

I have little doubt Shaky, who apparently still subscribes to Danny Jordaan’s Vision 2022 philosophy, will beat Egypt on Tuesday with five or six players close to 30.

And the SAFA President, just back from losing Nelson Mandela Bay to the DA, will no doubt tell us how wonderful everything is. It’s isn’t. We finished THIRD in AFCON Group M. Only ONE side qualifies for Russian 2018. Senegal are coming.