Bafana Bafana have the upperhand in their forthcoming crunch game against Australia in London. This is according to former Tottenham Hotspur defender Gary Mabbutt, who is one of South Africas 2010 World Cup Bid Ambassadors.
Thapelo Moloantoa of the London-based Shibobo Football (www.southafricatimes.co.uk/shibobo.html) caught up with him at The Sports Café, Piccadilly Circus for a chat.
TM: Thanks a lot for your time Gary, could you please explain to SA Times readers what the MBE in your title means?
GM: MBE this is a title, which Her Majesty the Queen of England gives to people who she feels have done distinguished work in society.
It means Member of the Order of the British Empire. Its an honour given for my contribution during my playing career and the services provided after that until today.
There are different levels of honour bestowed by Her Majesty, the highest being knighthood such the one bestowed on Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United manager)
TM: Could you give a brief background to your work in different parts of the world? We know you that your passion for football has taken you to that many would not dare go, such as war-torn Afghanistan.
GM: I retired at from professional football with Tottenham Hotspur five years ago and since then have been working with the English Football Association as a member of the International Development Committee.
Part of our project is called the Meridian Project set up by EUFA (Europes football controlling body) whereby European countries are assigned five African countries to work with in terms of development.
England is working with Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, South Africa and Swaziland. So I've been doing a lot work within these areas, from grassroots level to international level.
Basically we working with the football authorities in these countries to try and develop the game at all levels. A lot of my work is also individually motivated as well, been working with communities in Soweto, Umlazi, the Cape Flats.
You are probably getting the gist that South Africa is close to my heart; in fact my wife is South African. She comes from Northcliff, Johannesburg and we spend a lot of our time over there.
TM: Could you provide us with a background to your involvement with South Africas bid for the 2010 World Cup?
GM: Yes Ive been a good friend of Danny Jordan (2006 Bid Company CEO) for a number of years now even before the 2006 Bid. I thought it was a travesty that SA didnt win that bid, very unfair.
And when they said theyd bid again for 2010 I spoke to the English FA, they said they were not bidding, so straight away thats when I spoke to Danny.
The Company asked me if I could be South Africas Ambassador for the Bid as an international representative to try and develop South Africas bid.
We organised the Bafana Bafana vs England game in Durban last year to launch the Bid. Thats was a very exciting occasion and it went extremely well. The English players had an opportunity to meet Mr Nelson Mandela and the game itself was an enjoyable game.
After that I arranged for my former team Tottenham Hotspur to go to South Africa on a pre season tour as part of promoting the Bid. Spurs played two games - one in Durban against Orlando Pirates after which Spurs recruited Mbulelo Mabizela and the other game against Kaizer Chiefs in Cape Towns Newlands Stadium.
The idea behind these games was to demonstrate that the country has all the facilities and capabilities to put on all these international matches and do it very well even better than some of the leading football nations.
South Africa has the stadia, the accommodation, the passion, the financial muscle and the right leadership.
TM: Why do you feel that the 2010 World Cup would be the International Communitys great gift to South Africa?
GM: The 10th of May this year is the anniversary of Nelson Mandelas Inauguration as President of a democratic South Africa and on the 15th of May the FIFA Executive make their announcement about who theyve decided to award the 2010 World Cup.
So I believe that would be a great gift to the people of South Africa, for the international football community to say we celebrate and recognise what you have in terms of the 10 years of democracy.
TM: How is the game against Australia on the 30th going to reflect on South Africas bid for 2010?
GM: We are going to be using the game to promote the bid as well. We need to show Europe (who have all the decisive votes in FIFA) that South Africans are passionate about football even outside the country and therefore its vital that South Africans in London and the UK come in their great numbers to this game at Loftus Road.
I believe this game presents Bafana with an opportunity to start over after a poor performance in the Africa Cup of Nations. Its important that Bafana get back on track and this is also a chance for all the European based players to prove that they can do a good job.
I believe that between the players the combination of talented players in South Africa like Shoes Moshoue, Jabu Pule and 'Stiga' Fredericks with the experience gained by players in Europe could make a very strong side.
TM: How is the Bid Committee planning to ensure that the club vs. country issue doesnt hinder South Africas 2006 qualification campaign?
GM: Its been a big problem that affected former manager Shakes Mashaba tremendously when he tried to get the players together when he wanted them.
I believe there has to be a lot more communication between SAFA and the European based players. Theres been a lot of misinformation both in the South Africa and Europe media, causing more problems than there really is.
I believe SAFA, the clubs the manager and the players have to work far more closely for South Africa to move forward in footballing terms.
TM: Whats your take on the game against Australia at Loftus Road?
GM: I see the game being very competitive, Australia, like Bafana has some really great players in Viduka, Kewel, and Popovic. Most of both countries European based players will be available and Australia have the advantage of their squad having played together more often in the last year or so.
But having said that in terms of individual abilities I think South Africa will have the upper hand.