The “reality TV’ concept is well and truly entrenched as a part of the modern television concept. There is so much to choose from these days – at one end of the annoyingly high-pitched whiny voices of the Kardashian clan complaining about the difficulty of finding Evian water at just the right temperature, as well as other similarly themed shows like Real Housewives of Pretty-Much-Every-City, Jerseylicious and so on. There’s also the almost unending supply of competition-style talent shows like American Idol, X Factor, The Voice etc etc. But it seems that there is space for everybody these days with documentary-style shows dedicated to the ordinary and everyday – examples include shows featuring bakers, chefs, air traffic controllers, policemen, little people, obese people and other “real” non-Hollywood people.
Given the success of the reality TV bandwagon, it seems to me that there is a new mechanism for the South African Football Association (“Safa”) and Bafana Bafana to exploit to market their image and make some money to boot. Think about it – all of the classic ingredients for successful reality TV exist within Safa and Bafana – chemistry, conflict, comedy, money, intrigue, drama, shouting, crying and suspense. The producers of the Kardashian series would be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of teaming up with Safa and having visions of all the money to be made, with no effort on their part! They would just have to pitch up with their cameras and start filming.
When Gordon Igesund was appointed in July 2012, there was back slapping and congratulations all round with many feeling that the four-time PSL winning coach was finally being given his chance to show what he could do with the national team. However, respected South African football commentator Mark Gleeson warned about the dangers of the fickle nature of the high pressure job in an article in July 2012:
Gordon Igesund is in the midst of a glorious honeymoon.
All the pundits are circling him like love struck bridegrooms, praising his every move since he was handed the Bafana Bafana job and the smartly attired coach has reacted in kind, making all the right noises and moves since his elevated into the toughest job in the land.
He might feel now like a man with thousands of friends. When times are tough though, he’ll count those loyal to him on one hand.
And thus it came to pass that Bafana Bafana announced in May 2014 that current coach Gordon Igesund’s contract (set to expire in August 2014) would not renewed. Igesund’s objectives were to guide South Africa to semi-finals of the Africa Nations Cup and to qualify for the World Cup. He did not meet either objective. When asked why Igesund would not continue as head coach, Jordaan said:
“If you go to university and the requirement is to pass, but you fail, what more is there to say? The criteria were set out and you failed to achieve … so no, you did not deliver on the mandate.”
Safa president Danny Jordaan did not immediately reveal who the association would hire to replace Igesund, and added that the nationality of the next Bafana coach would not matter. Jordaan noted that Safa would speak to as many candidates as possible to try and bring in a person that can rebuild the Bafana brand.
This is where the major problem lies for Safa and Bafana Bafana – the Bafana brand has sunken lower and lower with each passing year from that famous victory in 1996, where the team was feted as African champions. It has become increasingly difficult for Safa to market the national team as an attractive option to any potential coach and it is easy to see why. It’s difficult to attract anybody to a losing team. Any highly-rated manager would want to be part of a winning franchise, or failing that a franchise that has potential to win. Bafana Bafana currently have neither.
Many fans and supporters believe that the number of coaching changes over the years (17 coaches since 1992) are to blame for the problems currently bedeviling the national team. Agreed, it is difficult to build any sort of consistency over the long term with a multitude of coaching changes but that is not where the problem really lies.
Others will point fingers at the players and note that for a bunch of well-remunerated individuals, they seem to lack the hunger or the will when it comes to playing for the national team. During Igesund’s final games in charge of Bafana on their Australasian tour, there were a raft of last-minute withdrawals from key players which some interpreted as a sign that players are so embarrassed of playing for Bafana that they would rather not play at all. Once again, the quality of South Africa’s national team players may not be the highest but that is not where the problem really lies either.
My view is that the revival of Bafana needs to start from junior levels all the way through to the senior team. This approach needs to focus on a playing style that is consistent across all age groups, so that players are able to move up without difficulty between each level. Safa could learn from the structures and administration of their rugby and cricket counterparts, where the youth teams regularly compete (and win) at international tournaments.
The key ingredient for this development, however, is time. This is something that the South African public is not generally used to – typically the incumbent coach has a mandate to qualify for Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup tournaments. This just puts a lot of short term pressure onto the team and the coach. I’m not advocating that Bafana should not be competitive and aim for qualification. I’m simply saying that it should not be seen as the end of the world if they don’t, as long as there is a longer term objective of developing the team to challenge for future honours.
South Africa’s national football team has many complex problems that require innovative solutions. Changing coaches or blaming players make for great reality television, but they will not provide answers.