SASoccer365 journalist Lashias Ncube takes a look at the murky world that is being coach of Bafana Bafana, admitting he does have quite a bit of sympathy for current incumbent Shakes Mashaba.....
I am still not sure whether this piece is appropriately titled. I dont really know what sits better - Is Shakes Mashaba A Puppet? Or, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being A Bafana Bafana Coach.
Anyway, I must admit that I was blown away by Shaun Bartletts recent outburst wherein he suggested that national coach Ephraim Shakes Mashaba had frozen him out of the Bafana Bafana set-up.
The former Bafana skipper claimed that SAFA had not forgiven him for his refusal to join the rest of the South African squad for a training camp in Spain three months ago, and that it looked as if he had paid the penalty for that indiscretion with his international career.
While his explanation for not traveling to Spain was plausible, I found his broadside aimed at the federation unfounded and his suggestion that Mashaba is pandering to the whims of powerful local club bosses an insult to the man and bordering on slander.
It is one thing to pin-point the singular and legendary incompetence of SAFA, but to suggest that Mashaba is not his own man, that he is a puppet, or that club bosses are puppeteers, depending on how one chooses to look at it, is rather ludicrous if not grotesque.
The Charlton striker also made a song and dance of Mashabas selection policy and complained that it was slanted in favour of local-based players.
Not even the local fans escaped his tirade. Apparently, they also prefer watching local players, Bartlett claimed.
"They (administrators) prefer local-based players and so do the fans back home because those are the players they see week in and week out, he said.
It's the pressure they get and the people they have to please.
"The people who are running the federation own the big clubs in South Africa as well so they lean towards those players.
That direction, Bartlett argues, does not augur well for the future of the national team, and the squad would be the poorer for the omission of the foreign-based contingent.
Obviously the former Cape Town Spurs striker is one of those people who subscribe to the view that as long as a country has foreign-based players, those who ply their trade locally should never get a look-in or at least they should be content playing second fiddle.
Needless to say that the view that the countrys exports are all better than the local crop is erroneous and flawed.
And by questioning the bias towards local-based players in Bartlett broke the cardinal rule; that one never begrudges a fellow professional his finest hour - the opportunity to represent his country.
Lets not forget that local players have in the past carried the unspectacular but important burden of qualifying the country for major tournaments only to be jettisoned for the Africa Nations Cup or the World Cup Finals in favour of foreign-based players like Bartlett.
Now, lets dispense with the hearsay and pub gossip which obviously inform Bartletts views and look at the facts, because, quite clearly the strikers claims are thin on substance.
If the current selection policy favours local players as the Addicks striker alleges, why did Mashaba hold a training camp for foreign-based players in Spain?
Why did Mashaba extend the invitation to the likes of Quinton Fortune, Emile Baron, McBeth Sibaya, Sibusiso Zuma, Bradley Carnell, etc for the clash against Jamaica at Athlone Stadium on April 30?
We have also seen players from Cinderella teams handed Bafana caps or invited to the squad - players like Mabhuti Khanyeza from Golden Arrows, Joel Seroba from PSL new-boys Dynamos, and others from unfashionable sides - all serving to disprove Bartletts point that the bosses of big clubs (that would be Pirates and Chiefs) apply undue pressure on the national coach.
It seems Bartlett is suffering from a bout of amnesia. He forgets that for a long time, he and others, even when they were not regulars at their European clubs, were beneficiaries of a misguided policy that favoured and glorified foreign-based players.
Successive Bafana coaches bended over backwards and at the knee to accommodate spoilt and temperamental foreign stars while overlooking in-form local players.
There may very well be a shift in the selection policy, but it has nothing to do with the influence peddling of club bosses. Instead, it has been brought about by the fact it has finally dawned on a Bafana coach that it would be foolhardy to rely on unreliable foreign players whose availability cannot even be guaranteed to form the backbone of the national squad.
When Mashaba ascended to the throne and did the long overdue thing - hauled the local coaches over the coals, actually, he chided them, for their reluctance to release players for international duty; when he decided he was not going to grovel for the services of foreign-based players, my reaction was that of finally, a coach with balls.
Foreign-based players must be disabused of their arrogance and the attitude that they have a divine right to be in the national team. Unlike the Americans who can wage war against Afghanistan or Iraq at a time of our choosing, soccer players, especially in a country with an embarrassment of talent, have not got the luxury to pick the international matches they want to play in or for that matter decide that they will only play at a time to suit their convenience.
It seems to me that players like Bartlett want to be given endless opportunities just to snub the national team.
But how many times can a love-struck pursuer take rejection?
Obviously egos were bruised when Mashaba decided that he had had enough with the endless excuses of the foreign legion and denied some of them even the option of either rejecting or accepting an international call by simply overlooking them.
Frankly, the excuses were beginning to sound like a broken record. The mantra I am trying to concentrate on my club career endlessly assaulted the South African fans ears as much as is insulted their intelligence.
Mashaba must be applauded for biting the bullet and making the tough decisions. He knows knives will be out for him, and that inevitably sections of the media will continue to pine for the return of former heroes should his preferred charges fail to deliver.
But when all is said and done, I still believe the Bafana mentor is doing the right thing. A man with the courage of his convictions, Mashaba will stand or fall by his decisions?