The Evo­lu­tion of the Of­fice

SLOW Magazine - - Edition 51 - Text: Michael Vlis­mas Im­age © Gallo

hand on his arm tat­tooed with the crazy sto­ries of a foot­baller’s life. And Fish seems more at peace than ever be­fore, hav­ing found his faith and what also ap­pears to be a new pur­pose in life.

“I look at my ca­reer and I would love to see my­self rais­ing money and giving some kid a chance to reach his dream,” he says, com­par­ing his de­sire to the mon­u­men­tal char­ity work that Gary Player has done.

“Ev­ery­thing that bears Gary Player’s name is of worth. He epit­o­mises what we’re striv­ing for in South Africa. How you play de­ter­mines how long your ca­reer lasts, but how you carry your­self de­ter­mines how much longer it will last when you’re done play­ing. Gary Player con­ducted him­self a lot bet­ter than I did as a player. I was a bit naughty.”

In­evitably the con­ver­sa­tion turns to­wards South African foot­ball, and specif­i­cally the state of the na­tional team, Bafana Bafana. As you read this, an­other FIFA World Cup will have been com­pleted. An­other one with­out the South African na­tional foot­ball team in at­ten­dance.

Since read­mis­sion to in­ter­na­tional foot­ball in 1993, Bafana Bafana have only twice man­aged to qual­ify for the FIFA World Cup – in 1998 and 2002. In the 2010 show­piece they didn’t have to qual­ify as they were the host coun­try.

Even a man as pas­sion­ate about South African foot­ball as Fish has to com­pose him­self as he con­sid­ers this, the most per­plex­ing and con­tin­u­ally frus­trat­ing ques­tion in all of South African sport: Why are Bafana Bafana so bad so much of the time? “There is a men­tal block some­where,” he says. “You can’t think the prob­lem is tech­ni­cal. It’s got to be men­tal. It’s dis­ap­point­ing.”

Fish points to the lack­ing men­tal for­ti­tude of the play­ers by us­ing an ex­am­ple from his own play­ing days, when the na­tional team won the 1996 Africa Cup of Na­tions and rose to 16th on the world rank­ings.

“I was chat­ting to an ex-team­mate of mine about this. In 1995 with Or­lando Pi­rates we played in the African Cup of Cham­pi­ons fi­nal. We played against ASEC Mi­mosa in the Ivory Coast. I’ll never for­get, there were about 60,000 peo­ple in that sta­dium and we prob­a­bly had 11 of our own fans there. When we won 1-0, there were over 59,000 silent fans. You can’t de­scribe it to any­one. That eu­pho­ria of si­lenc­ing nearly 60,000 peo­ple – that’s an­other as­pect of men­tal strength.”

Look­ing at the cur­rent set-up, Fish seems equally per­plexed as the rest of South Africa’s foot­ball-lov­ing fans. “We’ve been back in world foot­ball since 1992. We’ve had some­thing like 20 coaches [the num­ber is ac­tu­ally 17] for our na­tional team, and prob­a­bly more than 400 play­ers to rep­re­sent the na­tional team since then. The last World Cup we qual­i­fied for was 2002. We’re not go­ing any­where!” he ex­claims.

The coach­ing turn­around at Bafana Bafana amounts to a na­tional team coach ev­ery year and a half over the last 26 years of read­mis­sion to in­ter­na­tional foot­ball. In this time, Bafana Bafana has had an av­er­age world rank­ing of 52nd. The out­ly­ing high was that 16th place in 1996, and the low has been 109th. The team’s all-time record against other na­tions adds up to 401 matches played, win­ning only 182.

At a player level, it’s stag­ger­ing to con­sider that since 1992 only one player has reached 100 caps or more for Bafana Bafana – Aaron Mokoena. In com­par­i­son, the coun­try’s rugby Spring­boks have had five play­ers reach 100 caps or more: Vic­tor Mat­field, Bryan Ha­bana, John Smit, Jean de Vil­liers and Percy Mont­gomery. And they did so from a later start, with Mont­gomery the first af­ter mak­ing his Spring­bok de­but in 1999.

For many for­mer play­ers, it’s symp­to­matic of South African footballers get­ting far too com­fort­able with medi­ocrity at their home clubs to want to ex­cel at na­tional level, never mind travel over­seas to ply their trade.

In an in­ter­view with ENCA, the great Sene­galese foot­baller El Hadji Diouf said as much. “I spoke to Percy Tau and asked him what he was still do­ing in the PSL? The boy is good enough to play for any team in the world, in­clud­ing Real Madrid or any of Eng­land’s top sides. The boy is qual­ity.”

Tau played in the Man­dela Cen­te­nary Cup show­piece between Sun­downs and Barcelona at the FNB Sta­dium in May. Noth­ing summed up the gen­eral medi­ocrity in the lo­cal game more than a line by the com­men­ta­tor when a Sun­downs goal made it 3-1 to Barcelona (the even­tual fi­nal score).

“That goal has made the score line more re­spectable,” he said.

You won­der if Mark Fish would have ever felt like he’d achieved some­thing re­spectable by los­ing 3-1?

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