Igesund's honeymoon over
Sport24 columnist S'Busiso Mseleku (File)
Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund seems to have woken up to the fact that the African Cup of Nations is not going to be a walk in the park for his team.
In fact, the coach is beginning to show signs of a man in a panic mode. And in the process is sending out mixed signals.
On Monday, he left for England where he plans to meet the different English Premiership team managers whose clubs have South African players. His aim is to ask them if they can release the players earlier than required by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) laws.
Nothing wrong with that, one would say.
He is also going to meet David Somma to try and convince him to rejoin Bafana Bafana. Ah! He will also “have tea” with “retired” Bafana Bafana skipper Steven Pienaar.
His belated decision to go and “have tea” with Pienaar, is sending mixed signals because his initial reaction to Pienaar’s premature retirement was equivalent to a mere shrug of the shoulders.
He never indicated at that time that he was going to extend an olive branch to the vastly talented Westbury-born midfielder.
This was quite different to his reaction to Orlando Pirates’ goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs who had “retired” during Pitso Mosimane’s era. Igesund was quick to extend an olive branch to him and tell the player how much he was still needed. Following which the player made a U-turn and rejoined the team.
His visit to England comes a week after he had offered to get a personal physical trainer for the overweight Benni McCarthy.
These are signs of a man in panic mode.
Orlando Pirates coach Roger De Sa - despite being heavily criticised - was correct to say that his priority was to get McCarthy ready for The Sea Robbers rather than Bafana Bafana. Talk about getting your priorities right and knowing which side your bread is buttered on.
The bottom line is that Igesund must have a consistent policy on how he deals and treats players. If he is going to perpetually extend the proverbial olive branch, then fine, but if he keeps the door closed on players who “retire”, this must also be clear.
As national coach, Igesund must learn to work with what he has.
My guess - and I have been quite good at this over the years - is that he has just realised that the quality - if one can call it that - of players he has, is not good enough for a tournament such as the African Cup of Nations.
This is where Africa’s cream of the crop meets. A quick look at the players that Igesund has had to use in his four matches and those he has selected for Wednesday night’s Nelson Mandela Challenge match against reigning African champions, Zambia, they can’t hold a candle to the likes of Ivoirians Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Gervinho, and Nigerians such as John Obi Mikel.
This is nothing new but for quite some time, many South Africans have tried to hide from the fact that we actually don’t have good quality players.
While Igesund’s predecessors such as Carlos Alberto Parreira, Joel Santana and Mosimane committed their own blunders, one of the major factors why South Africa has failed to qualify for the last two versions of the biennial tournament, has been the dearth of talent in the country.
Having mediocre at a tournament where everybody brings their best is tantamount to approaching a gunfight armed with a knife. It’s not rocket science who will come short in such a battle.
As if all the above was not bad enough for Igesund, the latest FIFA rankings released on Wednesday showed that Bafana Bafana have plunged down a further eight places to 84th overall.
A quick glance at the 15 countries that have qualified for next year’s shindig shows that only four - Ethiopia, Niger, DR Congo and Burkina Faso - are ranked below Bafana Bafana.
So, in Bafana Bafana's Group A, there is no country ranked below the hosts. Even if Bafana Bafana manage to progress from the group, things will only get tougher in the knockout stages.
So, who can blame Igesund for pressing panic buttons as reality sets in and he realises that the honeymoon is over?
Here are the Groups with their different nations’ FIFA and African rankings in brackets:Group A:
Cape Verde (63, 14)
Morocco (72, 16)
Angola (79, 20)
South Africa (84, 21)Group B:
Mali (28, 3)
Ghana (29, 4)
DR Congo (99, 26)
Niger (107, 30) Group C:
Zambia (39, 5)
Nigeria (57, 10)
Burkina Faso (89, 23)
Ethiopia (102, 28)
Ivory Coast (15, 1)
Algeria (19, 2)
Tunisia (46, 7)
Togo (73, 17) S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.
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