What is ailing South African football? | World Cup

In the early 1990s, the South African men’s soccer team carried the hope of millions, that they would unite a nation divided by the end of apartheid.

In July 1992, the team was submitted to FIFA after a nearly 30-year ban.

However, Bafana Bafana failed to make a lasting impact and observers are divided over why.

Some former national team players say their problems come from inconsistency, others point to the South African’s absence from Europe’s top leagues as an indicator of quality. football player.

Others say that the players, and the team, need to develop their own football identity instead of imitating how teams develop in Europe.

From the reinforcement of the force to the elimination of the group stage

After the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, the national team looked like a rising force of African football.

It won the 1996 African Nations Cup (AFCON), lifting the trophy at home on its tournament debut, reaching a FIFA all-time high of 16 in August of that year.

Things looked promising for Bafana Bafana until the mid-2000s, boasting the likes of Benni McCarthy, Steven Pienaar, Quinton Fortune, Lucas Radebe and Fish – all of whom played in the Premier League. Then the team started to decline.

In the years that followed, Thulani Serero, Kermit Erasmus, Keagan Dolly, Phakamani Mahlambi and Luther Singh were hailed as potential saviors of South African football but had not yet achieved consistency.

South Africa has not qualified for a World Cup since 2002. The team’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar means they will not be participating in the third consecutive World Cup since posting. hosted the 2010 tournament, where they finished third in Group A.

That early disqualification earned them the infamous title of being the only host country in World Cup history not to make it past the group stage.

The team has also missed qualifying for four of the seven AFCON tournaments – most recently the delayed 2021 event held in Cameroon earlier this year.

Even if Bafana Bafana had qualified for the continental event, the team had not made it past the quarterfinals since 2000.

Former Charlton Athletic defender Mark Fish, who played for South Africa in the 1998 World Cup and in three AFCON tournaments, believes a major shift in mindset is needed, not just among players and coaches. , but also fans and media.

Katlego Mphela
Katlego Mphela during a match against Mexico in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup. South Africa has experienced its third consecutive World Cup since hosting the tournament in 2010. [Jason Cairnduff/Action Images/Reuters]

“Sometimes we hear about players playing well for three or four games, and then being talked about as if they were the next best player. Even when I coach young players, I see that one player is quickly nicknamed Messi. I told them they needed to earn such a nickname,” Fish told Al Jazeera.

Strong leagues make better players

Hans Vonk, who attended Bafana Bafana’s 1998 and 2002 World Cups, believes the absence of South African players in Europe’s top five leagues – England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – will affect to the performance of the national team.

“What we’re missing right now are strong league players,” Vonk said. “The experience makes them better players on the international stage.”

Current national team coach Hugo Broos, of Belgium, recently caused controversy when he said that the DSTV Premiership, South Africa’s top league, is not strong enough to equip players in the international arena, and Vonk agreed that the tournament was well organized and marketable, but did not meet global standards.

“There is no good reason why a country of 50 million people should not produce good players,” he said. “Clubs don’t focus on young players but instead they focus first on making money. There is also no structure because the coaches are not well trained”.

Vonk spent most of his career playing in the Dutch Eredivisie before ending it in South Africa with the now defunct Ajax Cape Town in 2011.

At the 1998 World Cup, where Vonk started all three group stage matches, South Africa was overwhelmed by France in the opening match but drew with Denmark and Saudi Arabia, finishing third in Group C.

In 2002, South Africa started the campaign with a 2-2 draw against Paraguay before claiming their first World Cup title with a 1–0 victory over Slovenia.

Just one draw against Spain, a mistake by goalkeeper Andre Arendse meant South Africa was eliminated.

“In 2002, we could have made it to the round of 16 if we had been more focused,” Vonk said. “I feel like some players don’t really feel like they’re in a World Cup.”

‘Have to do things our way’

Masilo Modubi, another former South African international, believes that the domestic league harms the progress of aspiring players by trying to emulate systems in Europe rather than form a football identity. its own unique.

A former Chelsea youth player, Modubi spent his career in Belgium with Westerlo and Dessel Sport. He currently works as a coach for KESK Leopoldsburg in Belgium.

Modubi said the age limit in leagues is in effect in Europe because players start to develop at six or seven years old. In South Africa, however, that development doesn’t begin until around age 21, he said.

“Because of the age limit, the development of the players is compromised. We can pick out certain things from Europe but we still have to do things our own way. Former top South African players like Teko Modise and Siphiwe Tshabalala only peaked in their late 20s,” Modubi said, adding that many of the best players cannot afford to attend academies. .

Hugo Broos, manager of the South Africa national football team
Former Belgium international Hugo Broos to coach South Africa national team in 2021 [Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

In addition, South Africa has had 20 different coaches in the 30 years since it joined international football in 1992.

“There is no consistency in the South African national team. We change coaches like we change underwear,” Modubi said.

“For the public, progress is about winning things. For a coach, progress is moving the team in the direction he wants. The public in South Africa is less patient than in other countries when it comes to coaches”.

Modubi also said the country is losing “many talented players who will prefer to watch TV and play on their consoles instead of playing sports”.

“There are quite a few good players but they are too sloppy and don’t really focus on developing themselves,” he added.

The South African Football Association (SAFA) declined to comment on what caused the national team.

Neil Tovey, former Bafana Bafana captain and SAFA technical director – who led the team to AFCON success in 1996 – believes a lack of leadership “and poor morale” from the players could be the main factors leading to the success of the team. to inconsistency and decline in performance.

“They have talent but they don’t have the leadership ability we had in 1996. When things didn’t go our way, we changed on our own. We don’t wait until halftime for guidance or post-match analysis,” Tovey said.

While many praised Broos for knocking down the state of South African football, Tovey said the Belgian “had to stop looking for scapegoats and try to find something that could make the team better”. , and believes that South Africa can qualify for the World 48 Open Team. The cup takes place in 2026.

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