How the Mighty have Fallen – Bafana’s route to oblivion and beyond

When Nigeria knocked Bafana out of CHAN – The African Nations Championship – on Sunday [3-1], it was just another in a long line of disappointing exits suffered by the national team who either can’t or don’t care about winning big tournaments.

By Michael Marnewick

South African soccer has failed to sustain the early successes under Clive Barker after the African Cup of Nations success in 1996.

Stop the bus, I want to get off
Stop the bus, I want to get off

South Africa emerged as champions in the 1996 African Cup of Nations under Barker. Two years later they finished second. A steady decline then followed as they came third in 2000 and lost in the quarter-finalists in 2002. From then it became even worse: not getting through the first round in 2004 where they won one game, drew one and lost the other. In 2006 they played three, lost all three and didn’t manage to score a single goal.

In 2008 they failed to qualify.

The South African national soccer side has had 19 coaches since Clive Barker and since March 1996 when they were ranked 19th in the world (and third in Africa) the sad story of their slip in the FIFA World Rankings has been severely disappointing. In February 2000, they were 21st (first in Africa). Five years later, they had dropped to 40th (seventh in Africa). Ahead of the 2010 World Cup hosted in South Africa their world ranking was 81st.

So what appears to be the problem for a country whose cricketers are the top ranked Test nation in the world and the Boks are second behind the All Blacks on the IRB rankings? One issue would be the high turnover of coaches (more than one a year), the other the sheer quality of coach appointed.

“Coming into the democracy era, there was a very strong European influence in our game mixed with the flair of African football through the late 70s, 80s into the 90s, and I think we genuinely had the best of both worlds,” Clive Barker explains.

“Against Ghana in the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations, we got it all right that night for probably the first time in my career in football; it was the way winning football should be played. I remember a coach from the Ivory Coast who watched our game turning to me and saying that this was the first time he had ever seen anybody play with the sophistication of Europe and the flair of South America in one match.

“I always remembered that and I think that’s exactly what we were. Unfortunately, what has happened is there has been this influx of average coaches.

“That happened to Man United through the late 60s, 70s and 80s and then they turned it all around with Sir Alex Ferguson. I do believe we have had that drop-off because we have mediocre coaches in this country. I am always worried about this because I always believed we had our own identity in South African football. We had that flair that was different and we had the organised way of playing like the European clubs. We had it all right there and we let it go through a lack of development and a lack of consistency. We’ve been made to suffer for it.”

Bafana reached their best-ever ranking in August 1996 when they were 16th in the world. At the time, they were ahead of countries like USA (20th), Argentina (24th), Egypt (27th) and Greece (30th).

18 years later they are now 10th in Africa and 54th overall (and likely to drop even further following their exit from CHAN).

Gordon Igesund is not a bad coach and understands the South African soccer psyche intimately. Perhaps for the national team, mediocrity has become ingrained and a solution does not appear clear.



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