Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana may not have qualified for the recently concluded 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, but for future reference, the South African national team may find that there are several lessons to be learnt from newly crowned champions, Cameroon.
After every Bafana failure, there is always talk of a rebuilding exercise. The question is: how long does it take to build Bafana?
In this year’s tournament, teams such as those of Gabon, Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso used youthful squads, energetic young men who – despite not all winning the trophy – looked hungry for success.
Cameroon were no-hopers and were given little chance of clinching the title against much-fancied sides such as Senegal, Ghana, Egypt, Algeria and even Burkina Faso.
Yet, the team that would have been regarded by a certain sports minister as a “bunch of nobodies” roared all the way to continental glory, with their victory being the direct harvest of a process that hinged on at least five key factors that Bafana can learn from, including having a level-headed coach – Hugo Broos – who did not let his ego get the better of him.
Unity and stability
The Cameroon team played as a unit throughout the tournament. The players had one another’s backs all the way and – even when up against the wall – they continued as one outfit.
Even though they had issues with their bonuses, they still had good performances on the field. This was important as it showed that the players were not there for the money; they were there to play for their country, for their supporters and for themselves.
While Bafana’s captaincy is rotated, Cameroon’s Benjamin Moukandjo is their full-time skipper and his presence is felt on the field.
No big-name players
If the Indomitable Lions were characters in George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm, no animal would be more equal than another. Cameroon added a fifth star to their jersey without a single star player in the team. Unlike squads from the past, where players such as Samuel Eto’o, Rigobert Song, Roger Milla and others were easily recognised, the current side had fewer known players. They were all equals without prima donnas in the team. In the Bafana camp, there are always divisions as players group themselves according to their clubs.
Ditched by a number of stars – eight to be exact – Broos picked those who were prepared to work hard. When the chips were down, they pulled together. Not at any stage were they scared or doubted their abilities. They showed their fighting spirit against Senegal and Egypt in the final. It was evident that the west Africans were hungry to succeed.
Although they were not given much of a chance, they went all the way, defied all odds and brought home the continental bacon.
Bigger selection pool and tactical flexibility
While Bafana shun some of their overseas-based players, Broos looked abroad for inspiration and this paid off in the end. Bafana’s downfall has been being too reliant on locally based players and overlooking the likes of Kamohelo Mokotjo and Ayanda Patosi. Competing at the highest level gives players exposure and mental toughness needed in international tournaments. They adapted well for each game, especially in the knockout stages.
Investing in youngsters and putting faith in the players
The Cameroonian side had an average age of 24. Goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa is only 21, but he performed heroics and kept the team in the tournament. In South Africa, young players are hardly considered because of lack of experience. It is time the likes of Percy Tau and Phakamani Mahlambi were thrown into the deep end.