Barcelona’s one-night stand

See­ing Barça live was riv­et­ing but some say, next time, foot­ball’s elite could be put to bet­ter use

Mail & Guardian - - Sport - Luke Feltham

By bring­ing over one of the world’s best teams to do bat­tle against PSL cham­pi­ons Sun­downs, South Africa is po­si­tion­ing it­self to be among the elite of the foot­balling world.

A pump­ing FNB Sta­dium can ri­val al­most any other arena in the world. And so it was on Wed­nes­day night when more than 90 000 South Africans ig­nored the cold and de­scended on Nas­rec. The hys­te­ria was pal­pa­ble as Barcelona FC walked out of the tun­nel, past the stat­uette of Nelson Man­dela and on to the pitch.

The Cal­abash shook ev­ery time Lionel Messi was shown on the big screen, tens of thou­sands bay­ing for an ap­pear­ance off the bench from the five-time player of the year. It was rem­i­nis­cent of the Amer­i­can cir­cus when David Beck­ham made his de­but for Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.

That’s not de­plorable in its own right but are we get­ting car­ried away with what this meant for our coun­try?

“The coun­try was in a buzz. A game of this mag­ni­tude has brought a lot to the African con­ti­nent; peo­ple from Botswana, from Mozambique, from Swazi­land, came for this game,” said Sun­downs legend Daniel Mu­dau.

For Mam­bush, this would have been a dream oc­ca­sion had he still been play­ing.

“Our play­ers want to rub shoul­ders with the big guns. Who doesn’t want to mark Messi? [Pa­trice] Mot­sepe is some­one who likes peo­ple. I don’t think he’s wast­ing money. Ev­ery­one is say­ing, ‘With­out you, we couldn’t see Barcelona.’ ”

Mu­dau is al­lud­ing to the Brazil­ians’ owner, who spared no ex­pense in bring­ing in the Blau­grana.

The en­deav­our un­sur­pris­ingly in­voked po­larised re­ac­tions. In one cor­ner are those, such as ANC elec­tions head Fik­ile Mbalula, who chant “God bless Mot­sepe”. In the other are those who would in­sist a foot­ball stake­holder so in­ti­mately in­volved in the na­tion’s favourite game has an obli­ga­tion to spend his money more pru­dently.

For Kaizer Chiefs gi­ant Doc­tor Khu­malo, host­ing the likes of Barcelona is a step to­wards hoist­ing South Africa among foot­ball’s elite.

“If you want to be­come the best, what is the best way?” he asked. “There is no cut­ting cor­ners. How else would you bring the likes of Manch­ester United to South Africa? Or would you pre­fer the whole of South Africa to go to Spain to watch Barcelona play? Which one is cheaper?

“You can bring the team here and then more than 90000 peo­ple can watch Barcelona. A lot of peo­ple are go­ing to ben­e­fit, so we don’t have to be neg­a­tive about it be­cause we want to be like the rest of the world.”

Is this an op­ti­mal learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for a na­tion that has failed to find the back of the net reg­u­larly enough in re­cent years? No, said an­other Buc­ca­neer legend, Jerry Sikhosana: “I don’t know why we want to make it a hul­la­baloo when it’s Barcelona. Yes, it’s the big­gest team in the world but re­ally for me it’s not a new thing. All the big teams from around Europe have come to play in South Africa and, ja, let’s con­tinue do­ing that.

“We talk about de­vel­op­ment, we talk about boys that would em­u­late the likes of Messi, An­drés Ini­esta, Luis Suarez — so let’s de­velop them,” he said. “If you bring those guys, bring them to come and do coach­ing clin­ics. These youngsters watch these play­ers, they want to be like them.

“But by bring­ing these play­ers, spend­ing so much money only for these boys to watch them play from a dis­tance, for me it doesn’t make any difference. Barcelona is at the FNB but it doesn’t do any­thing for the de­vel­op­ment of South African soc­cer. But this is Mr Mot­sepe’s money; we can’t say a lot about it.”

Sikhosana’s stance is not a pop­u­lar one among foot­ball stake­hold­ers. Af­ter all, the PSL, the South African Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion and the na­tional sports min­istry were all in­ter­ested in mak­ing this match come to fruition.

“Credit must go to Pa­trice Mot­sepe for bring­ing in Barcelona; they are my favourite team,” said for­mer Or­lando Pirates hard­man Lucky Lekg­wathi. “I talked to Daniel [Mu­dau] be­fore the match and he said they were go­ing to play this match for all South Africans, not them­selves.

“For the Sun­downs play­ers, some of them are Barcelona fans. Just imag­ine play­ing against some of your favourite play­ers? It’ll be a good ex­pe­ri­ence for them.”

What ev­ery­one agrees on is those Masan­dawana play­ers were given a les­son by their idols. Souma­horo Ban­galy failed as a pupil in the first 20 min­utes, twice cul­pa­ble as a 2-0 score­line was limply sur­ren­dered.

Ous­mane Dem­bélé gave a riv­et­ing lec­ture on fin­ish­ing for the first goal, cut­ting in on his left af­ter in­ter­cept­ing the ball and metic­u­lously curl­ing it past De­nis Onyango. The Brazil­ians failed to repli­cate that ef­fi­ciency, too of­ten floun­der­ing on the edge of the box and re­peat­edly try­ing to pass once in­side the 18-yard area.

Hlom­pho Kekana of course did not hes­i­tate to un­leash his sig­na­ture from-a-dis­tance bel­ter but Tebogo Langer­man in­ex­pli­ca­bly passed in the 78th minute when faced with a clear shot.

The game it­self of­fered noth­ing to com­plain about as it set­tled into an en­ter­tain­ing, if pre­dictable, rhythm. Barça bossed pro­ceed­ings in sec­ond gear but ul­ti­mately only broke through thanks to ter­ri­ble de­fen­sive lapses. With the World Cup in eye­shot, we were never go­ing to see mer­ci­less tack­les in this one.

As great an oc­ca­sion as it might have been, there was al­ways go­ing to be an un­shak­able sense of a fes­ti­val. From the build-up to the un­usual mid-week, close-sea­son tim­ing, this was no or­di­nary foot­ball match.

In truth, many who filled up Soc­cer City, chris­tened as the home of foot­ball eight years ago, won’t be too both­ered about the long-term ben­e­fits to the game. Af­ter all, we got to watch King Leo live on African soil. Even if only for 15 min­utes.

Fan­fare: Get­ting to see An­drés Ini­esta (left) was a ma­jor draw for South African fans.

Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP & Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

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