Itumeleng Khune (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The South African Football Association (SAFA) has once again left football fans scratching their heads with their selection of the Rio 2016 Olympics squad.
Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and team-mate Erick Mathoho have been selected by coach Owen da Gama as the only over-aged players to make the 23-man squad.
Both selections, especially the inclusion of Khune, were met with heavy criticism, with Wits’ Moeneeb Josephs calling the selection unfair to Ajax Cape Town’s Jody February, who he felt took SA to the sporting showpiece.
Ajax Cape Town striker, Nathan Paulse, also defiantly came out in support of his club team-mate while questioning the actual value that Khune would add to the squad.
"I don’t see why he has been picked. People throw the 'experienced' tag around, but I think experience only counts when you’ve achieved on that (highest) stage, which then allows you to pass on that experience.
"Khune hasn’t done anything great for South African football as yet. I mean, South Africa hasn’t won a cup at senior level.
"So for me if you’re selecting a senior player, you should either take someone with experience who has achieved at the highest level.
"The number of caps can be thrown into the argument, but caps in my opinion have been won by just about any Tom, Dick and Harry, so to say he’s the most capped player, to be quite frank, it means half-and-half because we fail to hand out caps to players who’ve earned it."
February received plaudits for his performances in the CAF Under-23 AFCON tournament with the 'keeper’s penalty heroics in an Olympic qualifying decider against Senegal ensuring SA’s passage to Rio 2016.
Despite February’s impressive form, national Under-23 head coach Owen Da Gama confirmed that Khune would be going to the tournament as the team’s first-choice shot-stopper.
Da Gama cited February’s lack of game time at Ajax for this decision, but Paulse questioned his reasoning as Khune himself suffered from an injury-plagued season.
"I think you have to look at the individual players added and what they’ve done over the last year or two. If you look at Khune especially, he’s been injured for a large part of the last year and a half or almost two years now and has struggled for form," said Paulse.
"I think Jody is obviously proud and happy to be going to Rio 2016, but deep down, knowing him, I think that if I was him I’d be absolutely gutted at the inclusion of Khune, not only for the fact that I don’t think Khune is better than him, but also as I think there is this false hype that is built around him."
Paulse went on to question if there were any hidden agendas behind sacrificing a promising youngster for Khune.
"The boy has to hope and pray that the football gods smile on him because the South African football gods have no brains, to be quite honest," said Paulse.
"How do you claim that you have a vision of working towards 2022, but you’re going to put a player there who everyone knows will play and yet hasn’t given anything to the senior team?
"I also think the powers that be in SAFA see Khune as this golden boy which for me is all an agenda and the fact they’ve taken him along is a last shot to be put in the world’s eye for a possible transfer to a big team.
"But if he is that good or as they say, “Mzansi's number one”, then he should already be playing in one of the top leagues in the world.
"Again, the reason why I say South African football lives on its own and hasn’t got any regard for world football is because somehow we think that SA football can hold its own.
"So because of this we speak highly of “Mzansi's number one”, but if you were the number one in SA, you should have been playing in the world’s best leagues by now or the world’s best teams should have knocked on your door by now.
"I think it would have been more beneficial to have taken three players who play at a higher level than in the Premier Soccer League. There are players who are Under-23 or just over who are playing in a higher league who can add that intensity and experience which would have helped the team far more.
"The sad reality about SA football is that when they say the best players are in South Africa, the fact is that we will never see the best South African squad as long as things are being done the way they are because players aren’t picked according to form and players are not being picked according to where they play.
"To be quite frank there’s a reason why a player gets signed by an overseas team, not because that team likes that player personally. It’s because they see that that player has the ability, the skill and most importantly the mindset to handle playing in another league."
The 34-year-old striker also questioned whether Da Gama only serves as a pawn within the SAFA football structure as the former Dynamos coach was handed the Under-23 reigns despite being without a team.
"I think that South Africa has enough qualified ex-professionals who have played overseas and on the world stage to make a positive impact," said Paulse.
"I think it’s time that they take a stronger stance because you also can’t complain all the time that our football isn’t moving forward. We have all the ex-pros who are either too scared to come forward or are just happy to be doing their jobs wherever they are. That’s why you’ll find people like Owen Da Gama being employed because they are happy to be 'yes' men."
Paulse, though, will still throw his full support behind the squad and hopes that they can prove him and all the naysayers wrong.
"Being South African I hope that they can shock us and cause an upset because in the last season or two world football has shown that the game is moving back towards being a team sport irrespective of whether you have the best individual stars," said Paulse.
"So in keeping with that theme I hope that they can work together as a team seeing that we lack world beaters that a Brazil or other teams have.
"But if we work as a unit I think they can do something. Their first challenge though would be whether or not they can get out of their group, which is going to be an achievement on its own."