This week, the prayers of millions of Bafana Bafana fans, who took the time to support the national soccer team and attend their games, have been half-answered. After many months of calling for Pitso Mosimane’s head, the South African Football Association took the decision to fire him for what was blatant underperformance. They had to do something to halt the ever-growing string of poor results by the team under Mosimane’s watch. Bafana Bafana have been the laughing stock of African football for many years now and an attempt to put a stop to this mediocrity was long overdue. Mosimane was a promising young coach for the national side. Following his successful stint at SuperSport United, he has been an understudy to the likes of the well-decorated Carlos Alberto Parreira. He was appointed to take over from the Brazilian who also failed to help Bafana do well.
Following Bafana’s record-setting performance in the 2010 Fifa World Cup, where they became the first World Cup hosting side ever to exit the tournament in the first-round, Parreira‘s contract expired and Mosimane took over with salary of up to R800 000 a month, including bonuses. No South African coach in this country has ever been that lucky. Mosimane started well when he led the national team, which still had Parreira’s blueprint, to a 1-0 victory over a full strength Ghanaian side that exited the 2010 World Cup in the quarterfinals. Bafana went on to win their second match with “Jingles” in charge against Niger, but from there on the ride became bumpy, the wheel nuts got loose and ultimately the wheels came off, with Mosimane firmly on the accelerator of denial.
This is how it happened. Mosimane started showing signs that he was tactically bankrupt, when all Bafana victories after their 2-0 win over Niger, were excruciatingly narrow 1-0 wins. The goals would often also be scored in the dying moments of the game. Bafana have never been great travelers and that flaw continued to prevail under his watch. Mosimane’s record with Bafana left a lot to be desired. The team had four wins, three losses and a whopping eight draws under this man. It would have mitigated the problem somehow if he took responsibility and tried to make the necessary changes. However, Mosimane would remain stubborn, in denial and blame everyone and everything for the bad results but himself.
His bad moods and barking at the press after every poor result were the highlight of my day – so much so that if they were put on the big screen at the games, they would have helped SAFA sell tickets and fill the stadiums. He played the blame-game better than the radio plays music. When Bafana lost against Zimbabwe, he blamed the artificial turf. When the team played away in other parts of Africa, he blamed the poor infrastructure, the extreme weather and the hostile crowd. At some point he blamed the transportation when Bafana played to a goalless draw in a must-win match against Sierra Leone in Freetown. When Bafana did badly at home he had a standard reason for that too, which was that there wasn’t “enough preparation time”. Sometimes he would make excuses long before the games started and then followed them up with an “I told you so” after the game.
His bosses heard his plea and gave him two full weeks to prepare the team for their first Fifa 2014 World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia. Guess what? Even with all that preparation time, Bafana had to come from a goal down to salvage a point against a side ranked 130 in the world!
While waiting in the media conference room after the match in Rustenburg, journalists were literally taking bets on what Mosimane’s excuse would be that time. Mosimane walked in wearing his game face as usual after such a poor display and kicked-off the blame game. The man pointed a finger at the players: “Everybody has been calling for me to put Nomvete in. He is here but what has he done?” He raised his voice even further: "Whether I'm here or not they (Bafana) will miss their chances. Get in another coach they will still miss their chances".
He then took on the Premier Soccer League and SAFA: "We must be fair and honest that we have a problem of scoring goals, so we need to develop strikers. We must try to improve the scoring rate in the PSL." He continued, "You see in South Africa we don't want to accept reality. Things have not been going well for us since we won the 1996 Afcon, but we are not changing the formula. We have a problem, but you are going the same way; we must do things right in terms of our development programmes. We don't want to accept that the world is catching up with us. We don't want to accept that we are not scoring goals. We don't want to accept that our development programmes are not good. We don't want to accept … let's change the programmes. It took Spain 80 years to win the World Cup, but they had to change their programmes. What programmes do we have? We don't change the formula yet we expect different results. Whether I'm here or not they will miss the chances. Let's be shrewd on our development programmes." Fair point but you have been in the South African coaching system for a while now and I’m pretty sure that you knew all of this when you signed on the dotted line, accepting your mutli-million-rand-a-year job.
The tirades have been going on for a long time and he was not shy to take on the media too: "How many times have you guys written an obituary for me? How many times?” He went on to say “Everybody wrote, ‘they turned the game into practice matches, they're afraid, they're scared’, but I will soldier on because this is part of being the Bafana coach. I am patriotic and I will continue with my duties." Mosimane called the media too "critical" and "emotional" on many occasions.
Following the briefing after the match against Ethiopia, he was summoned to a meeting with his bosses at Safa and was given his marching orders. Steve Komphela was then tasked with looking after a team of dejected players who are still looking for their scoring-boots.
Was it the right decision to fire Mosimane? In my view, Yes!
Was the timing right? Definitely not! In fact, it was long overdue.
Mosimane and his employers are hardened denialists.
The reality is Mosimane should have packed his bags and been given his marching orders, when he found out that he had actually failed to lead Bafana to the 2012 AFCON. Safa should have taken the bold step then and found a new coach, who was going to use the eight months wasted on Mosimane to prepare the team.
Long after Mosimane’s failed bid to lead Bafana Bafana to Equtorial Guinea and Gabon, after failing to read CAF’s tie-breaker rules, he maintained that Bafana should have qualified. Well, someone should have told him that it’s the CAF rule book he should have read from.
Safa’s big wigs have been in denial for the past two years, thinking that Mosimane was the right man for the job.
For many years, soccer lovers in South Africa have been praying for a messiah-coach - someone who can turn Bafana Bafana into a formidable team, a conqueror of Africa and the world. That part of the prayer is clearly not answered yet.
My point is the Bafana Bafana coaching post is not a training ground and shouldn’t be used as such.
Mosimane means “boy” in seTswana and the shambles we’re seeing in the national team are proof that this is what happens when you send a boy to do a man’s job.