Joy­ful De­siree knows the hard work starts now

A jour­ney that kicked off with a Kombi drive to Joburg ...

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - ROD­NEY REINERS

DE­SIREE EL­LIS had to quickly grab a pin and burst the bub­ble of eu­pho­ria she was in af­ter her ap­point­ment as the in­terim head coach of Banyana Banyana, the na­tional women’s foot­ball team.

The pop­u­lar 53- year- old Capeto­nian, a for­mer cap­tain of Banyana, had to get into gear rather rapidly af­ter her el­e­va­tion to the po­si­tion to pre­pare the South Africans for an in­ter­na­tional friendly against Egypt, sched­uled for this af­ter­noon at the Dob­sonville Sta­dium in Soweto ( 3pm kick­off).

The friendly is part of Banyana’s warm- up prepa­ra­tions for the African Women’s Cham­pi­onships in Cameroon dur­ing Novem­ber and De­cem­ber. At the event, El­lis’ team will be in Group A, with hosts Cameroon, Egypt and Zim­babwe. Group B in­cludes Nige­ria, Mali, Ghana and Kenya.

“I was just so emo­tional on the day of the an­nounce­ment,” she said. “I was sim­ply over­whelmed by all the mes­sages of sup­port. You know some­times you don’t re­ally re­alise how pop­u­lar Banyana ac­tu­ally are but judg­ing by the re­sponse to my ap­point­ment, there’s no ques­tion about the team’s pop­u­lar­ity… It was just un­be­liev­able.”

El­lis, though, knows that af­ter the joy and hap­pi­ness, the hard work starts.

“Ob­vi­ously, my ap­point­ment as a na­tional coach is fan­tas­tic for the Cape,” she said. “And it’s now up to me and my tech­ni­cal staff to put into prac­tice what we’ve learnt over the last few years.

“We’ve been on coach­ing cour­ses, we’ve com­pleted the Caf A Li­cence and we’ve also been on a Fifa course. Now it’s up to us to take the team fur­ther, to show what we’ve learnt. For me, from a per­sonal per­spec­tive, it’s about adding value, and stamp­ing my own mark on the team.”

El­lis is orig­i­nally from Hei­de­veld but grew up in Salt River. Both her par­ents worked, so she stayed with her grand­mother in or­der to at­tend school. She was at Dry­den Street Pri­mary and Salt River High.

“We were four girls at the time and, when my brother came along, the fam­ily was too big and we moved to Hanover Park,” said El­lis, as she re­vealed how the foot­ball bug bit.

“But we still went to school in Salt River… and it was from play­ing foot­ball in the streets with the boys, and dur­ing breaks at school, that was where it all started.

“When I was 15 years old, I was ap­proached to play for a team called Athlone Celtic – to be hon­est, at the time, I didn’t even know they had girls’ foot­ball teams.

“But I joined, and that was to be the start of my foot­ball ca­reer, and my late fa­ther was my big­gest sup­porter.”

By the age of 30, af­ter the uni­fi­ca­tion of foot­ball, El­lis’ big op­por­tu­nity with Banyana ar­rived. With South Africa’s read­mis­sion to the Fifa fold, and na­tional foot­ball teams es­tab­lished, El­lis was asked to travel to Jo­han­nes­burg for na­tional tri­als.

She drove her­self in a Kombi with a few other women ( no flights for these ladies at the time) and, with for­mer Eng­land in­ter­na­tional Terry Paine in charge of the squad, El­lis was picked as the vice- cap­tain. The very first game for them was against Swazi­land, with Banyana win­ning 14- 0, and El­lis net­ting a hat- trick.

Now, the Capeto­nian has gone full cir­cle – from cap­tain to head coach. She spent a two- and- a- half year pe­riod as as­sis­tant coach to her pre­de­ces­sor, Dutch­woman Vera Pauw, and now El­lis is the one call­ing the shots on the bench.

“The African Women’s Cham­pi­onships is com­ing up, but we are only fo­cused on Satur­day’s friendly against Egypt,” El­lis said.

“Egypt are in our group at the tour­na­ment in Cameroon next month, so it’ll be a good pointer.

“We’ve called up a few play­ers from the Var­sity Cup. They weren’t at the re­cent Rio Olympics, so we want to have a look at them. As for the play­ers in the squad who were in Rio, I have to say I was quite im­pressed with their level of fit­ness at train­ing this week, it was clear that they have been work­ing hard since the Olympics.

“But look, I’m well aware that, in any coach­ing po­si­tion, it’s all about re­sults. I’ve only been in the job for a short while, but I know that’s the bot­tom line.”

Banyana’s par­tic­i­pa­tion at the Rio Olympics ear­lier this year ended with elim­i­na­tion dur­ing the group stages. El­lis was at the event as Pauw’s as­sis­tant and, while oth­ers may feel the team failed, the Capeto­nian is of the opin­ion that the ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge gained will stand them in good stead for fu­ture tour­na­ments.

“It was ob­vi­ously won­der­ful to be at the Olympics,” El­lis said. “But, as I al­ways tell peo­ple, I didn’t even see any­thing of Rio… I was there to work. There wasn’t time for any­thing be­cause we had two days be­tween games and it was just a case of work­ing all the time. But it was nev­er­the­less a great ex­pe­ri­ence.

“As for the team, re­mem­ber that we are ranked 52 and we played against teams ranked way higher than us. But we still man­aged to give the op­po­si­tion some headaches. For ex­am­ple: against Swe­den, we had a great chance early on, didn’t take it and they went on to win; against China, we should have been 3- 0 up by half­time, we never took the chances and we lost; against Brazil, it could have gone ei­ther way, but it ended goal­less.

“We lost con­cen­tra­tion at cru­cial mo­ments and, of course, there’s also the big prob­lem that af­fects all of South African foot­ball – the lack of goals. It’s not easy, ask any other coach in this coun­try, but it’s some­thing I will have to fo­cus on, and keep work­ing on, now that I am in charge,” she added.

Go­ing for­ward, El­lis – as she did when she was a player – wants to achieve. She is de­ter­mined to place Banyana on the road to suc­cess.

“When you are young you dream of play­ing for your na­tional team, and for me it hap­pened when I was 30,” El­lis said.

“Then, you dream to coach your na­tional team and it’s more than a dream come true for me now… I am liv­ing the dream. It’s al­ways about be­lief, and if you don’t have it, you have noth­ing.

“The only way you can change the men­tal­ity of those who don’t be­lieve is to get good re­sults, and get the team to play pos­i­tive foot­ball, to win matches.

“In life, you will al­ways have peo­ple who do not be­lieve, you will al­ways have peo­ple who don’t have faith in you.

“But, as a player, I have been dropped three or four times in the na­tional team, and the at­ti­tude I showed to get back into the team, to go on and cap­tain the team – I have that at­ti­tude in life as well be­cause I may not be able to change things I am un­able to change, but I can con­trol the ones I can change.”

PUSH IT, THEN PUSH IT SOME MORE: De­siree El­lis is able to share her ex­pe­ri­ences as a na­tional cap­tain with the likes of Amo­ge­lang Mo­tau.

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