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Molefi Ntseki can’t win as Bafana coach

Molefi Ntseki can’t win as Bafana coach

02 September 2019, by: Sibusiso Mjikeliso


Molefi Ntseki’s appointment as the new Bafana Bafana coach has said more about the federation that governs the game – South African Football Association (SAFA) – than the man who now occupies the top post.

In no uncertain terms, it is an admission that SAFA are at their wits’ end with regards to the flagship football team in the country. By appointing Ntseki, in the expeditious manner they did, they are basically saying, “Jesus take the wheel.”

It is a Hail Mary. It’s a hit-and-hope appointment. A shot in the dark. A heave-hoe. It is one of those moves people make when all else has failed. And in SAFA’s case, plenty has failed.

This is not a slight on Ntseki himself than the people to whom he reports. But Ntseki, by virtue of the appointment, will bear the brunt of the criticism and social media diatribe when (not if) the wheels come off for Bafana again.

SAFA could not even wait to see their new scapegoat in action as an interim head coach ahead of South Africa’s friendly with Zambia on Saturday. The itch to cover up the malaise left by their former coach Stuart Baxter’s tenure was too strong not to scratch.

They didn’t want a coach that will challenge their very foundations, their modus of governance or a coach that will set visions even longer than 2022. They wanted someone who knows how to bite his tongue. Someone who is “theirs”.

By theirs I mean Ntseki has pretty much been groomed inside SAFA House. His coaching record outside the cocooned national structures, where there are no weekly (and sometimes daily) results, logs and fixtures pressures, is paper thin, to say the least.

His most recognisable Premier Soccer League job was the time he spent as an assistant coach at Bloemfontein Celtic from 2010 to 2012. And although that’s nothing to be scoffed at, it was too brief a time to earn Ntseki the public confidence for his new role that he will need to survive in the hot seat.

Other than that, he has built a strong reputation as a cunning guide for young talent by co-founding the explosive talent factory called Harmony Academy and steering the national Under-17 team to the Fifa Under-17 World Cup.

But now he enters a level where high-profile and high-earning stars do not want their hands held. He will be expected to bring to Bafana camps the kind of training methods that will give the national men’s team an edge over their international opponents.

Some Bafana players, especially internationally-based ones, have said of being in the national training camp as, and I’m paraphrasing here, “a bit of a tactical downgrade” from what they experience in Europe and some of the top South African clubs.

Plenty previous Bafana coaches have been undermined and belittled by these stars and Ntseki is not impervious to such slander.

When the pressure of the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers starts to squeeze, he will be torn down not just by the scathing press but by professionals within his dressing room.

Players will remind him at every turn that they are not 17. Every minute move of his internal chessboard will be compared to the chess moves made by more accomplished contemporaries such Pitso Mosimane, Benni McCarthy and Steve Komphela.

The situation will get desperate, as it always does with Bafana. And he will become desperate. And all the hope that he will blood a young national team will fly out the window in crunch encounters. He will revert back to the defensive, negative mind-set that characterised his and Baxter’s group stage campaign at the recent Afcon tournament in Egypt.

One almost feels sorry for him because it’s a job the 50-year-old would have been insane to turn down. It’s a job that, perhaps, he and Shake Mashaba were born to have. How could he have said no?

He knew he would immediately have to face questions of being the “cheap option”. (Questions that are valid in the face of SAFA’s recent high-profile financial woes, which include failed broadcast rights negotiations with the SABC, which have shaved R110-million from their coffers).

But again, how could he have said no? He will be hung out to dry like the rest of them. He will be burnt at the stake.

SAFA is a strange animal that eats itself from the inside and it is feasting season. The job needed a strong character to finally put an end to the rot. A Mosimane, a McCarthy, a Komphela, a Hunt or even a Dan “Dance” Malesela.

But no, SAFA does not want to change, so they appoint a coach who is not going to force them to change. So, in 2 years, we will be back here again, writing Ntseki’s Bafana coaching “obituary”.


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