No country for unpatriotic soccer players
There is a frequently told soccer story of a young South African footballer who left his bride at the altar soon after exchanging marriage vows to save his club on the field.
That youngster was Ephraim Matsilele Sono, who was later given the moniker Jomo, and his bride was the doe-eyed Gail Puleng Sono.
The young Sono was bothered by the news coming in through the radio that his beloved Orlando Pirates were losing to Highlands Park in a 1979 match.
He discarded his wedding suit, drove away in a huff and entered the stadium to loud ululation and excitement from the Ghosts.
The events that unfolded made the history books. Sono helped to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 victory.
While his new bride was likely unimpressed with his actions, she stuck with him and they have four children – five, if you count Jomo Cosmos!
Back to the present and coach Ephraim Shakes Mashaba, whose national team has been slipping down the Fifa rankings, calls up players for the first step in qualifying for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
As an aside, Mashaba is still regarded as one of the most successful captains Pirates has had.
Among the players on Mashaba’s call-up list is one Tokelo Rantie.
In case you don’t remember him, Rantie is the bloke who missed a crucial penalty when Bafana were leading Algeria 1-0 at the Afcon finals earlier this year.
He’s also the bloke who got married last Saturday. (I guess congratulations are in order!)
So, he turns down Mashaba’s invitation – make that call-up – to join the national team, as he is still on honeymoon.
And so it is that Rantie joins a growing list of players who have snubbed the national team.
I am aware that tying the knot is quite a big deal and takes a lot of planning.
However, the Afcon draw was on April 8.
So we have known that Bafana Bafana would be playing Gambia for almost two months.
Rantie therefore had a long time to think about this.
Furthermore, it’s the off season and most leagues only resume in August.
I believe Rantie’s response shows total disregard for the national team. He should be wary of the legacy he is creating.
As things stand, he is likely to be remembered as “that player who missed a penalty and then snubbed Bafana”.
Mashaba’s attempt to rope in Kermit Erasmus and having to secure Thamsanqa Gabuza instead is certainly another story for another day.
A lot has been made of Erasmus’ tweet of “Im [sic] not no [sic] backup player”.
But the big question remains: Why did Mashaba leave out Erasmus in the first place?
While the national coach vowed to stick to in-form players when he initially took over the reins, his selection method – if that is the right word for what he is doing – has left much to be desired.
Mashaba has been complaining about South African football’s Achilles heel – scoring goals.
But there is currently no strike force as potent as that of the Buccaneers.
At some point, Mashaba will have to explain his selection criteria to the South African public. He needs to do something about whatever selection process he is using, as recent results do not count in his favour.
As for players, they should be extremely careful about the manner in which they treat the national team.
To paraphrase a late homeland leader: if Jomo Sono did it for Pirates, why can’t the current players do it for Bafana Bafana?