Appointed in June this year to lead the South African national football team, Gordon Igesund, the home grown 76-year old silver hair tactician is finding out that life on the job is not as fancy as he thought when he accepted the post.
Before him, it was Pitso Mosimane, Carlos Alberto Parreira, and Joel Santana—-four coaches in four years; 13 coaches since 2000 for The Boys (Bafana), meaning a coach a year; and that is not a good record. With that many coaches coming in and going out, it’s no wonder why the ‘Bafana Bafana’ is so troubled like other African teams.
The mandate handed him by the South African football Association (SAFA), to lead the team as the era of coach Pitso Mosimane came to an end in June meant Igesund was walking a very tight rope. This meant the new SA football head coach had less time to prepare his team as he tinkers with strategy and new players as the all important tournament draw nears.
Since his appointment, Coach Igesund has been bold; and to the surprise of many analysts immediately began rebuilding a new team instead of grooming the squad his predecessor left him.
Offered a two-year contract to elevate the pride of the South African team given its recent failures, the former Moroka Swallows coach was tasked to reach at least the semi-final in the 2013 AFCON tournament, which South Africa will host, as well as qualify the country for the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament slated for Brazil.
He added that the task is doable, and also said: ‘If I weren’t up to the task, I would not have taken the job,’ he is remarked to have said. However, Gordon Igesund is being paid R400, 000 per month as part of his two years contract, which is also said to be performance-based. His team has been playing a string of friendlies as part of the rebuilding process, and the proof can be seen in the pudding.
Recently, he got a taste of what’s expected in January when he met Herve Renard, the most successful coach on the continent on his home soil this month suffering a 1-0 defeat to Zambia, the African champions in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup at Soccer City on November 14. Zambia got their only goal through Collins Mbesuma’s 64-min effort. Renard and Chipolopolo showed yet again why they were the African champions, after defeating Ghana and Uganda this year.
After the defeat the South African coach confessed that the team was not ready, and that he was still in a rebuilding mood. “The difference between the two teams is that they are a team,” the embattled Igesund said. “They have been together for maybe three years or so and we’ve been together for three months, five games and eight training sessions.
Bafana Bafana has been struggling in midfield as well, and this Igesund admitted: “We missed a little bit of creativity in the middle of the park and we didn’t really create enough chances, although we did have a couple.” Former South African captain Steven Pinaar, the ‘Midfield General’ who plies his trade for Everton in the English league resigned from international football this year, handing Gordon Igesund yet another major headache.
Pinaar is one of few veterans on the squad whose skills the coach needs badly as the all important tournament looms.
Reports say it was Bafana first home loss since it lost by 1-0 to the United States two years ago in Cape Town. “The Zambian test confirms Igesund has a lot of work to do as the tournament is already here, with less than 60 days to go,” says a Liberian football analyst.
“Under Igesund, Bafana have scored in just two matches against Kenya and Mozambique. Against tougher competition his team crumbles. He has invited the aging but rejuvenated Benni McCarthy back into the fold as he looks for scoring options, he said.
His first match was away against Brazil, losing 1-0 in what was a spirited fight in Sao Paulo with goalie Itumeleng Khune putting up a brilliant performance in September. Igesund also played away to Poland losing by 1-0, but won in Kenya 2-1 against the Harambee Stars, and at home beating the Os Mambas of Mozambique 2-0. Thanks to a brace from Bernard Parker. Zambia was Bafana Bafana’s first real African test since he assumed leadership of the team.
Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Zambia are hosts of teams at the Afcons festival that will be hungry for glory. Gordon and his team, say an analyst are sure expected to see a lot of tough opposition because African teams are a lot stronger and playing better. South Africa is also a former African champion. Already the silver hair trainer is coming under criticisms.
Neil Tovey, who captained the South African football team to the African Nations Cup title at home in 1996 was worried after the defeat to Zambia. He said the current Bafana team wasn’t imposing enough compared to the team he led 16 years ago. “We won the Four Nations tournament that we had…so our results were very, very good leading up to the 1996 African Nations Cup. We were very consistent before the African Nations Cup, we had been together for a while and we knew each other very well.” Tovey said the current squad doesn’t have the same pedigree. The iconic 1996 team was coached also by another South African named Clive Barker.
Before the Afcons tournament in 1996, Bafana Bafana “beat Lesotho 3-1 in Maseru, drew 1-1 with Argentina at Ellis Park, beat Mozambique 3-2 at Soccer City, drew 2-2 with Zambia at Loftus, beat Egypt 2-0 in Mmabatho, beat Zimbabwe 2-0 at Soccer City and finally drew 0-0 with Germany at Johannesburg Stadium,” said the South African Business Day sports page.
A tough score sheet for Coach Igesund to match given his recent appointment and record; but he has promised to make South Africans proud when he was handed the job. Those who know him say he has the knack for turning around failed teams in short periods.
South Africa is paired in group A with Cape Verde, Morocco, and Angola, with Bafana Bafana. And the Atlas Lions are the favorite to emerge as group winners. Given the recent scale and performance of African teams, Gordon Igesund will need to hurry up and fortify his team, or he or his team could crash early in their own backyard.
It remains to be seen if Gordon Igesund can fix Bafana’s woes.
Ralph Geeplay can be reached at email@example.com