Foot­ball it­self will kick out the egos and the ar­ro­gance

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - SPORT - ROD­NEY REINERS FOOT­BALL WRITER

THE PALL of gloom, which we know all too well, has again de­scended upon South African foot­ball – and it hov­ers there, like a dark, heavy, an­gry rain cloud.

Af­ter a 2-0 de­feat to Sene­gal in Polok­wane on Fri­day, Bafana Bafana will be watch­ing the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia on their tele­vi­sion screens. Foot­ball in South Africa is rather ac­cus­tomed to the feel­ing of be­ing left be­hind.

Since re-ad­mis­sion to Fifa, and the first in­ter­na­tional match in 1992, the SA na­tional foot­ball team has only man­aged to qual­ify for the planet’s most pres­ti­gious sport­ing event on two oc­ca­sions: 1998 and 2002. Don’t count 2010 – South Africa hosted and did not have to go through the qual­i­fy­ing phase. For a coun­try with the best fa­cil­i­ties on the con­ti­nent, able to call on some out­stand­ing nat­u­ral foot­ball tal­ent and a rich, thriv­ing foot­ball league, it’s an em­bar­rass­ing and dis­as­trous statis­tic. Need­less to say, as usual, my­opi­cally, the re­sponse has been: fire the coach.

Yawn.

Of course, Stu­art Bax­ter has to carry the can – the buck stops with him – but Bafana’s prob­lems go far, far deeper than just the coach. I’ve said it be­fore, and I’ll say it again, they could get just about any­one – José, Pep, Conté, Hunty, Tinks or even Benni – but, un­til the ba­sic is­sues hin­der­ing the sport at all lev­els are at­tended to, this in­sane ham­ster wheel will keep turn­ing.

It starts right at the very top, where, with­out doubt, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the game des­per­ately re­quires fresh, in­no­va­tive lead­er­ship. Foot­ball needs to be pointed in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, and placed on a path that ben­e­fits the game in gen­eral and not only an elite co­terie (and doesn’t that also re­mind you of the pre­vail­ing state of the na­tion).

Let’s not even talk about last week’s ad­min­is­tra­tive balls-up around the avail­abil­ity of Andile Jali.

The play­ers, too, share more than their fair share of blame. They love com­fort zones; they refuse to be shaken from the ease of the av­er­age and the or­di­nary, which is why, as in­di­vid­u­als, and as a team, their game stag­nates.

It reaches a cer­tain level and stays there. Our best foot­ballers need to get to big­ger and bet­ter clubs and they need to con­stantly chal­lenge them­selves – in this way, they can, as we see from many other African sides, be more tech­ni­cally equipped, be tac­ti­cally more com­posed and dis­ci­plined, and im­prove their over­all game man­age­ment skills for the step up to in­ter­na­tional foot­ball.

Those are just two ar­eas of con­cern. I’m sure there are many more. But my two cents is about some­thing more in­tan­gi­ble. In lit­er­a­ture, it’s called hubris – the lit­er­ary de­vice that ac­cen­tu­ates the tragic flaw at the heart of a char­ac­ter. In a word: ar­ro­gance.

And, al­ways, in any book or play, it’s this weak­ness or fail­ing that leads to the down­fall.

Much as in Chinua Achebe’s sem­i­nal novel Things Fall Apart, where the main pro­tag­o­nist, Okonkwo, is des­tined for tragedy: “Only the really great men in the clan were able to do this. Okonkwo saw clearly the high es­teem in which he would be held, and he saw him­self tak­ing the high­est ti­tle in the land.” The ex­tract, in essence, is a metaphor for Bafana – al­ways de­lud­ing it­self about the real state of their cir­cum­stances. In short, foot­ball re­wards hard work, dili­gent ap­pli­ca­tion, at­ten­tion to de­tail in plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion, the will­ing­ness to put your body and soul on the line and, above all, it prizes hu­mil­ity.

I was at a func­tion last week, lis­ten­ing to Liver­pool man­ager Jur­gen Klopp – and, when he was asked about egos and ar­ro­gance in foot­ball, he replied: “Foot­ball will kick them out. Be­cause this is a sport you can­not fool – it will pay you back. Put in and you will get out. Coat your­self with ar­ro­gance and it will spit in your face.”

The big ques­tion South African foot­ball needs to ask it­self is: “Are we really as good as what we think we are? And then it has to an­swer the ques­tion with bru­tal hon­esty. Can SA do this? Or will it, like Okonkwo, con­tinue to de­ceive it­self. Or, like the os­trich, keep bury­ing its head in the sand?

So, as SA foot­ball deals with the omi­nous dark cloud over­head, the sport is again at a cross­roads. It has, of course, been here many, many times be­fore. In the past, it just re­fused to budge, sim­ply star­ing, brazenly, boast­fully, off into the dis­tance. Now, it’s de­ci­sion time again. Change, choose a dif­fer­ent path, or ar­rive here again in four years’ time?

SA foot­ball’s hubris is a lot like Nar­cis­sus – it keeps look­ing at it­self, ob­ses­sively ad­mir­ing its own re­flec­tion, which is why, like the char­ac­ter in Greek mythol­ogy, it is slowly starv­ing to death.

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