Cape Town – Is there any single, really good reason upfront to believe that Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba will buck the post-isolation trend and actually have a long and successful tenure as Bafana Bafana coach?
The answer has to be a fairly clear-cut no.
If that sounds like an unreasonably bleak and defeatist point of view so swiftly since his installation, let me hasten to suggest that not even a hot property like Joachim Loew, Germany’s acclaimed World Cup-winning string-puller earlier this month, would be fancied to turn around our rickety national side’s fortunes in the highly unlikely event he was coaxed away from Die Mannschaft and seduced by the, er, power of the rand.
The Bafana job is one severely blighted by farcical instability, unhappiness, misfortune and failed conquests, and hardly helping is that the personnel which Soweto-born Mashaba will shortly inherit remains glaringly short of comforting bankers.
Even as predecessor Gordon Igesund got the odd flash of competence out of the raft of newcomers he desperately blooded to try to escape the doldrums, he was hamstrung by the sad fact that South African regulars in the genuinely big leagues of Europe - whose worldly nous could come in so useful, a la the Radebes, Fishs, McCarthys, Masingas, Bartletts and Pienaars of yesteryear - have all but ceased to exist more recently.
These were at least hardened, proven pros the domestic elements in the Bafana mix could rally around, and beneficially feed off.
So Mashaba really begins with a slate that can only be called “clean” for the sake of politeness.
Outside of dubious-gravitas friendlies (yes, even the 1-0 victory over listless then-World Cup holders Spain must be tempered on those grounds), when last were we all able to feel some sense of vaguely consistent national pride in Bafana?
I’d venture it was at the home-staged 2010 World Cup, when spirited performances were registered against France and Mexico even as South Africa failed to advance from the group stage, denied by goal difference.
Four years on, though, and several of the seemingly emerging, driving Bafana figures in that event, like Siphiwe Tshabalala, Katlego Mphela, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Bongani Khumalo, have either flat-lined or subsided in promise.
Kagisho Dikgacoi, the robust defensive midfielder who certainly played his part in a rousing, successful Crystal Palace relegation escape act in the last English Premiership campaign, has dropped a division in 2014/15 by signing for relegated Cardiff City, which is a pity yet also somehow seems symbolic of the broad, stubborn malaise in SA soccer.
Thulani Serero? It will be interesting to see whether Mashaba is well disposed toward a player who fell into dispute with Igesund over fitness and associated loyalty issues ... but at least, at 24, the Ajax Amsterdam-based attacking midfielder may still be short of his fullest potential both for his Dutch Eredivisie club and South Africa.
Much has been made of Mashaba’s solid track record at Bafana age-group level; there is no harm in trumpeting that, save for the fact that so many supposed teenage wunderkinds around the globe fall haplessly through cracks instead of kicking on, which must be factored in if this 63-year-old, father-like figure intends fast-tracking loads of the callow lads he’s patiently reared.
I find it very difficult to proclaim definitively on the issue of whether SAFA “going local” with the choice of Mashaba - and probably saving more than a few pennies in the process - is a good or bad thing.
On the one hand, it is sometimes argued that home, PSL-based players often better understand and can relate to one of their own in the hot seat.
There have also been times in the past when even the more educated and linguistically blessed of media folk have battled to decipher the musings of the quirky foreign likes of Augusto Palacios, Philippe Troussier and Joel Santana ... so what price the players, on the training field and before the whiteboard?
Then again, however, it is also seriously tempting to suspect that someone working smack within a general South African system so flawed and second-rate for so long has no better a chance of plucking 66th ranked (and a just as lowly 14th in Africa) Bafana from the quicksand.
There is also little reassurance in the SAFA bosses, of all people, virtuously imploring press and public for “patience” as they claim long-term vision in Mashaba’s appointment.
That’s rich coming from an organisation that sports a Bafana coaching recruitment strike rate of roughly one per annum since 1992: it’s like the guy who administers the lethal injection at the end of death row asking the bemused, doomed prisoner to give him a quick shoulder massage.
It’s also impossible to avoid chewing over the fact that SAFA have effectively gone “backwards to go forward” by contracting someone who has had prior, short-lived chapters in the post – a policy not without its perils as history has often shown.
An altogether bigger footballing battleship, Brazil, have jerked a knee, following that amazing 1-7 semi-final humiliation by Germany at the World Cup, in re-appointing Dunga as manager. Just for the record, my gut feel is that move may end in tears.
Naturally a decent start would be useful for Mashaba in keeping at bay inevitable scepticism in many circles about his prospects.
But even that isn’t guaranteed: Bafana sometimes produce bursts of best football in glamour tussles with top world powers; it is gritty challenges in unsung metropolises much further up the African continent where South Africa all too often flounder, and Sudan away in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in September could turn out to be simply another example.
Much as I wish against it, I just can’t see Mashaba succeeding, and it has nothing to do with any suggestion he may be short of the required competence; he seems a diligent, durable and industrious football man.
It’s pure law of averages in Bafana management ...
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