Bafana Bafana’s nickname literally translates to “the Boys, the Boys”. Friday the 7th September marks the day when boys will be expected to become men, as new coach, Gordon Igesund and South Africa face Brazil in a daunting friendly in São Paulo, playing in Brazil for the first time in South Africa’s history.
The South African Football Association has earned a notorious reputation through the managerial merry-go-round of the last 2 decades. 13 managerial changes since 2000 is a signal of the instability the position holds. ‘Poisoned chalice’ springs to mind and one would have to be a brave (albeit, soon to be rich) man to take up the challenge of managing Bafana Bafana. Club v country ‘disagreements’ are a big factor of the national setup with questions over players attitudes at this level widely discussed. It’s an understatement to say that a country that holds a population of 50 million people and languishing in 74th in the FIFA world rankings is not realising its full potential.
Step forward the man the people have demanded. Gordon Igesund is the new Bafana Bafana coach, a decision made official at the end of June. The only man with the record of leading four different teams to the Premier Soccer League title in South Africa finally gets the chance to turn around the fortunes of a struggling nation.
Moroka Swallows achievements
When Igesund took over at Swallows, they were rock bottom of the league. He saved the club from almost certain relegation and remarkably turned them into league runners up the following season. Igesund brought in experienced players, shrewdly offering them chances to reignite their career after stagnating at top clubs. Amongst others, he made 2 signings from Sundowns, 2 from Pirates and 1 from Chiefs – crucially all of these players were older than 26 and would go on to be massive parts of a consistent team selection in 2011/2012 (the least rotated team in the PSL).
Siyabonga Nomvethe finished top scorer and Igesund was awarded coach of the season. David Mathebula also excelled in an attacking midfield role, narrowly missing out on the Player of the Season to Nomvethe.
What to expect
Igesund is expected to build the spine of his side around experienced players, as he has done most of his career. The average age of Igesund’s first squad is 26 – however he has included a few young prospects in the squad that are there to build experience against Brazil and Mozambique.
South African football fans demand short term success and results are not merely enough to satisfy the majority, who crave attacking and flair-filled football. Igesund has publicly stressed that he intends his South African side to play in this offensive manner.
Igesund: “We have to incorporate African flair because that is what we do well. We also need to play a lot more attacking football; we need to play with wingers, we need to attack, we need to get behind defenders, we need to be compact and organised and disciplined. But, more importantly, we need to score goals and we are capable of it. It will be all about keeping possession of the ball, playing much quicker than we have been playing, and playing with wingers and getting balls into good areas.”
However, whilst making the right noises is one thing, one must take into context the style of his previous sides. His teams in the past have generally played with an emphasis on control and efficiency rather than imagination, with last season’s Swallows side being one of the most direct sides in the league. At Pirates, he was physically threatened by fans demanding more entertaining football. He favours a 5 man midfield with a lone striker, technique over pace or energy, and likes his sides to play with balance and width. With the wealth of choice at his disposal, he is likely to place his trust in experience yet again (no coincidence that he has mentioned ‘leaders’ numerous times in the media).
System and identity
South African football has lacked a clear identity for a long time. Whilst the Spanish, Brazilian and Dutch national sides have strict philosophies with how they set up to play the game, Bafana Bafana has been left in a heap following messy breakups with foreign coaches. Brazilian, Portuguese and South African coaches have all influenced our tactics leaving Bafana lacking a clear direction in style. Will we revert to the 4-2-2-2 that arguably suits our wider midfielders? Will we play a lone forward, whilst looking to build our attack around a talented No. 10 like Thulani Serero? These are just a few of the numerous tactical questions that need answering.
Igesund: “What I am hoping to introduce is that we need to identify our style of play, our philosophy and then stick to it. I will be introducing an attacking style of play with wingers and we will play with flair. That is our strength and if we are successful, then we should stick with that. If a new coach then comes, he should be told that that is our style of play. Spain, for instance, does that. They have a style that is easy to identify and a new coach does not come and suddenly change everything.”
An aspect touched on by Igesund is the shortage of consistent goal scoring centre forwards. Since the start of the PSL there has only been 3 seasons where the PSL Golden Boot winner scored more than 20 goals with the winner stooping as low as 11 goals in 1997 and an average count of 17 goals for a top scorer since 1996.
Katlego Mphela continues to play when he chooses, Benni McCarthy (the South African international goalscoring record holder) has discipline issues and Siyabonga Nomvethe is reaching the end of his career. The lack of genuine goal scorers has led local clubs to making increasingly desperate moves. Eleazar Rodgers’ 32 goals in 149 games were enough for Sundowns to pay R7million to sign him at the end of last season. This is despite only scoring 2 goals in the entire 2 seasons before 2011/2012. The younger players in the squad show promise – Tokelo Rantie has excellent movement and energy, and Igesund has assured fans that Dino Ndlovu will “surprise” people. However, goals remain a rare commodity.
Igesund on Ndlovu: “He’s absolutely playing tremendously well at the moment. He’s really going to surprise a lot of people. He’s strong, he’s powerful, great skill, great left foot, scoring lots of goals at the moment.”
“I’m more happy about the amount of goals that are getting scored [in the PSL] than the goals that are getting conceded. The most important thing is to score goals. I’d rather to see a game of 4-3 or 5-4 than see a game of 0-0.”
Igesund’s background work has already begun. He has travelled extensively to meet with every single PSL coach, as well as going abroad to meet every single player eligible for Bafana Bafana. His proactive approach and willingness to openly accept advice is exciting and refreshing, as well as his effort to communicate with expatriates to prevent them from feeling isolated from the national setup. This effort clearly has been born purely out of his own experiences of coaching in the PSL.
Igesund: “The PSL coaches obviously have an intimate and updated knowledge of all their players that I can’t possibly have at my fingertips. I want to have a close rapport with all of them to assist me in selecting the best possible South African squad. For my part, I’m not scared to ask for advice; although the buck stops right here and I must make the final decisions.”
“I remember when I was a club coach I never felt anything for Bafana because the national team never called me once to ask how things were going, to enquire about players and then suddenly they would call to ask for players to be released early to join the national squad. I want club coaches to feel part of the set-up because they really are part of it.”
He has also already started planning for AFCON, demanding that matches originally allocated to certain stadiums to be moved to venues with bigger capacities and larger expected support.
Staff and man management
Igesund has carefully chosen his technical team and his assistant will be the excellent former SuperSport United No. 2 Thomas Madigage. He has also selected an ‘advisory committee’ of respectable figures in the local football industry.
Igesund: “Gavin’s an old friend. He knew I would come after Thomas. He’s the most successful assistant coach in the country, he’s used to working with winners. The day I got the job I told three people I wanted Madigage. And we got him. Nobody knew. They were all talking about my supposed technical team, Fani Madida, Doc Khumalo, but I knew who I wanted.”
“And I’ve told Thomas, he has to ditch the hat. I know it’s his lucky hat, but I’ve made it clear, Bafana is inclusive, we represent all religions, not just the ZCC. I love the hat, I love the Zionists … but Thomas and I have agreed: No hat on the bench for international games.”
“I’ve also put together a panel of advisors – Clive Barker, Shakes Mashaba and Jomo Sono – great men who I have so much respect for. When difficult decisions need to be taken, I’ll be able to turn to them. And Lucas Radebe? I know he’s interested in getting back into football, he’s spoken to Robin – but we’ll have to see what happens there.”
Igesund’s biggest asset is his man management. Unlike former foreign Bafana coaches, he understands what it takes to work with players from a country with such rich cultural diversity, and most importantly, what it takes to get them to work for you. Being a South African himself, Igesund is well educated on local culture and his attention to the minor details is an important part of his character.
Igesund: “South Africa is a very complex place. We have many different cultures, and coaches need to understand that. It is not always something that foreigners pick up. For instance, in some cultures in South Africa, people bow their head when they are spoken to. A local coach will understand that that is being humble and showing respect, whereas a foreigner might think it is disrespectful.”
His first task will be rebuilding the confidence to the national side and get them playing in a system that suits the personnel.
Igesund: “I think we need to instill confidence back into our players because we have players who are as good as any other players in the world. All we need to do is believe in ourselves and stop this pulling-down syndrome. We need to believe that we are capable of anything!”
Igesund has stressed the need for players to be picked on form not reputation. His first squad has shown him stick to his word by omitting big name players like Andile Jali, Oupa Manyisa and Teko Modise. He has instead included a number of players playing abroad and locally who have arguably been performing more consistently.
Igesund: “We are always going to be able to have a fully fit national team and a team of players who are always in form. Every player will know if he wants to play for the national team he has to perform at his club. The best players will be fighting for a place in the side. We need to make this national team very competitive, where all the players want to be selected, all the players don’t feel that they are going to be automatic choices.”
“I’ve spoken to the coaches and I’ve informed them that for any player in our country to be selected in the national team he has to be performing for his club. I want to be able to maybe give the coaches a little bit more power in the sense that if they have a player that’s not performing, feels that he can just do what he likes at his club level, that club is not getting the best out of that player. So that means why should I make an assumption that I’m going to be getting the best out of that player when he comes to the national team? That player will not be selected in the national team.”
Medium term targets have already been given, with the qualification of a 2014 World Cup spot and a semi-final finish at AFCON 2013 set by SAFA. Longer term targets are to breach the top 20 in the world rankings and the top 3 in Africa. The short term target, however, remains constant – a formidable Brazilian opponent, an intimidating atmosphere, the battle of jetlag and a new squad. Many may see this as typical delusion from the national association but there is plenty cause for optimism with the new man in charge.
Others on Igesund:
Clinton Larsen (Bloemfontein Celtic coach): “I believe he can deliver. If there’s anyone who knows how to turn teams around in a very short time, it is Gordon. He is amazing at raising players’ morale and confidence. And right now, we all can see that Bafana’s confidence is at an all-time low. He’s the ideal man to get them motivated. Gordon knows how players think and is able to find out what makes them tick. He knows how to treat them as individuals and get them playing at their best. He’ll do that with Bafana and have them delivering.”
David Notoane (Mitchell’s Plain United): “One of Gordon’s strong points is his ability to manage players. I remember how he used to make me understand why he used me sparingly when I felt I deserved to play regularly. He is a good leader and I think he’ll provide good direction for the squad. While I am of the view that we should have gone for a long-term solution to our football problems, I think Gordon is the kind of coach you need when you’re taking a gamble. He is not afraid to take chances and I think the national team give him an opportunity to put together a squad of players he believes can do the job for him as he has been previously successful.”
Lefa Tsutsulupa (captain of Moroka Swallows): “He is very good at planning, for every game and even scenarios in matches. But what most impressed me about him was how he managed each player individually. If he tells a player what he expects of him, he also shows and helps him to get there.”
Original Bafana Bafana squad to face Brazil and Mozambique: (60% locally based, average age 26)
Wayne Sandilands (Mamelodi Sundowns) – 29
Moeneeb Josephs (Orlando Pirates – 32
Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs) – 25
Siyabonga Sangweni (Orlando Pirates) – 30
Bevan Fransman (SuperSport United) – 28
Bongani Khumalo (PAOK, Greece) – 25
Erick Mathoho (Kaizer Chiefs) – 22
Anele Ngcongca (Genk, Belgium) – 24
Punch Masenamela (Mamelodi Sundowns) – 25
Thabo Matlaba (Orlando Pirates) – 24
Kgosi Ntlhe (Peterborough, England) – 18
Kamohelo Mokotjo (Feyenoord, Holland) – 21
Steven Pienaar (captain)(Everton, England) – 30
Reneilwe Letsholonyane (Kaizer Chiefs) – 30
Siphiwe Tshabalala (Kaizer Chiefs) – 27
Thulani Serero (Ajax Amsterdam, Holland) – 22
Katlego Mashego (Free State Stars) – 25
Dean Furman (Oldham Athletic, England) – 24
Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace, England) – 27
May Mahlangu (Malmo, Sweden) – 23
Lerato Chabangu (Moroka Swallows) – 27
Bernard Parker (Kaizer Chiefs) – 26
Siyabonga Nomvete (Moroka Swallows) – 34
Dino Ndlovu (Maccabi Haifa, Israel) – 22
Thamsanqa Gabuza (Golden Arrows) – 25
Changes due to injury:
Manqele for Nomvethe
McCarthy for Manqele
Gaxa for Ngcongca
Maluleka for Pienaar
On Dean Furman (Oldham Athletic, England)
“I’ve spoken to his coach, [he’s] very, very impressed, they don’t think Dean Furman’s going to play in that team much longer, there are quite a few clubs after him. The performance I’ve seen in the past couple of games I think he deserves an opportunity. I think it’s very important that we get a chance to get a look at a player like him to see what he’s capable of. Very useful player, holding midfield player, uses the ball well, gets forward.”
On Kamohelo Mokotjo (Feyenoord, Holland)
“Plays at Feyenoord, as you know, he’s a fantastic player. He plays as a holding midfielder, his club are playing him as a right-back. He’s doing tremendously well over there. He’s young, he’s the future, I think we need to have a look at him as well. He’s playing at the highest level of European football, you don’t play at giants Feyenoord if you’re not a decent player, he’s getting good game-time.”
On Kgosi Ntlhe (Peterborough, England)
“As you all know he played for our Under-20 team, did a magnificent job. I spoke to [club coach] Darren Ferguson and he said to me ‘this player will never let you down, coach’. He says the English Championship is one of the most physical leagues in world football, he says it’s a hundred miles an hour, which we know. He says this player is just about his best player at the moment, at the back, paying left-back. He goes forward, he’s very strong. This guy needs to be looked at. He’s 18 years old and playing in the English Championship. He deserves to be there because of his performances in the last few games, he’s a regular starter in the team.”
On Thamsanqa Gabuza (Golden Arrows)
“Not only have I noticed him now but I actually noticed him last season He’s a young player, physical player, skilful, he can play with his back to goals, he scores goals, he’s movement is very, very good, he’s going to cause problems for defenders. Sometimes there’s too many players that go unnoticed because they don’t play for this team or don’t play for that team. We need to look at the players that are performing and this player has performed. He’s a player that is going to surprise a lot of people.”
“I think we do, but we have to get them to come out of their shells; to express themselves and believe that they can be as good as anyone else in the world. They need to put the jersey on and know that the coach and technical team believe that he is the best player in our country, even from all our players across the world, to play in that particular role. The players must think to themselves ‘they believe me, and now I need to express myself’.”
“Look at David Mathebula. He is a typical example. He was quiet, an introvert who went on the field and did his job and went home again. I told him why I bought him for Swallows – because he is a great player, but that he needed to work on his defensive qualities because he drifted in and out of games. He was good in patches, but sometimes he hid and never wanted the ball. So I got him to fetch the ball in deeper positions, got him working back more and winning the ball. Then I told him to get on the ball all the time because he is so good with the ball at his feet. Then he started wanting the ball again and the rest is history. But now each player is different – you need to be hard on some, soft on others – some if you shout at them they respond well, but others you cannot shout at.”
Send you own thoughts on Igesund’s first Bafana Bafana squad, and what starting XI you think he should pick, in the comments sections below.