[OPINION] Sundowns vs Barca: the lessons for the country
Last week Thursday, Barcelona FC, the world’s favourite football team, arrived to play Mamelodi Sundowns FC, South Africa’s league and the All Africa champions. It is safe to say that the best in the world came to play against the best in Africa. However, the prognosis with regard to our prospects for real success on the world stage of football, and any other endeavours as a country, is not encouraging at all. The occasion, by the way, was the Nelson Mandela Centenary challenge and the venue was the iconic FNB stadium in Soweto.
Winning, we are told, is a habit. Those who habitually win in any endeavour are usually those who have developed the habit over a period of time by sharpening their skills against multiple worthy opponents. We are told that the neural pathways in the brain literally widen each time the sensation of winning is experienced, in favour of finding winning strategies and tactics in those who adequately develop this habit: - increasing the prospects for victory each time.
It is no surprise therefore that the throngs - about 90,000 spectators - filled up the FNB stadium to witness which pathways of the art of winning on the football pitch were wider between Barca and Sundowns. Mamelodi Sundowns has over the last two years dominated the local and continental football scene, winning very skilfully and convincingly on many occasions such that it has been accepted that they are not a one-time wonder. They have done similarly well in the continental football space and are currently the All Africa champions. They have a capable coach in Pitso Mosimane, a well-resourced technical team and each player is supremely talented.
So, it would seem that the neural pathways for winning a friendly game against a jet-lagged, albeit the best team in the world, in our own backyard, would be wide enough for a win.
Not so, our best team was star-struck from the word go. They had no chance of winning. Even if the Barca-squad had arrived drunk and incapacitated, our boys would have lost that game, so absolutely thunder-struck were they by the presence of greats such as Messi and Suarez.
Even the coach, in a pre-match interview, in an attempt to sound measured in his thoughts for the prospects of a possible victory against Barca was already defeated. He spoke of “being realistic” and lamented the inopportune time at which this game was taking place given their very busy schedule in our local league. Uninspiring to say the least, it was clear that the “pathways” were speedily narrowing. Indeed, it would be disingenuous to pretend that Barca, with their pedigree, their sensational line-up of world-class players and their undeniable gravitas, would be an easy victory in the best of circumstances for the best of teams in the world. This is Barca, for Pete’s sake!
Even our politicians - the likes of Juju, Floyd, Mbalula and Maimane - salivated and swooned as they slavishly genuflected before the great Messi and the Barca team. It was as if the main event of the evening was the simple arrival of the Barca team and that the game was a mere formality. And that the notion of winning the said game would, in fact, be rude and inhospitable. In fact, there were more Sundowns supporters wearing Barca jerseys than there were Sundowns supporters in the stadium. It was quite sickening really.
Even the celebrations that followed Percy Tau’s first goal were muted when compared to the subsequent three goals scored by Barca. The stadium erupted into an orgasm of delight as the balls found the back of the net. You would think you were in the heart of Barcelona if you were not paying attention.
It is not the loss against so great a team that should concern us as a country. Rather, it is the reason for the loss that should deeply concern us. Sundowns did not even have the basic competitive temerity that one would expect from any team. It was the fact that they did not even “show up” to lose the game that should bother us. They were awe-struck spectators like the rest of us, occasionally remembering that they were opponents to their football gods on the field.
On the rare occasions during that torturous 90-minute violation, when the Mesmer would subside for a moment, the brilliance of Sundowns would make an unwelcome brief appearance and again be snuffed away by the grovelling, as if it was blasphemous. The 3-1 victory against Sundowns was not even a victory because a victory would imply a game of opponents; this was nothing more than collaboration, a willing convergence of paralysing excuses. It showed a lack of pride and desire to win. It was indicative of the substance-less bling-culture that has come to characterise most South African endeavours. From dysfunctional school enrolment online systems to the worthless qualifications of unemployable students.
It should concern us that our greatest aspiration on such an occasion is to take a selfie with Messi than win against him and create new homegrown legends of our own. It is a psychological phenomenon we need to seriously overcome or else all the potential we have will evaporate into the ether. South Africa is a land of great potential and prospect, but until we take ourselves seriously enough to believe that we are capable and worthy of the highest accolades in any endeavour, we will relegate ourselves to the dustbin of history. We need to show up.
Aubrey Masango is a presenter on Talk Radio 702. Follow him on Twitter: @702Aubrey