Flipping Santana the Birdby Carlos Amato / 23.09.2009
Ask any football-loving weaver bird whether Bafana coach Joel Santana should be fired, and he’ll nod his lil’ beak without a moment’s hesitation. Because weavers have a powerful management skill that human beings rarely possess: the courage to abandon a costly but doomed project.
If said weaver screws up by laboriously building a nest in the wrong tree – too windy, say, or inhabited by cats – he doesn’t stress. He just shrugs his wings and starts all over again in the right place.
The human urge to redeeem past investment (of time, money and effort) doesn’t figure in his decision. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Move on, and forget.
And the Santana regime is getting wronger by the week. It’s no longer possible to make excuses for the chronically incomprehensible Brazilian. Anyone who watched the miserable defeat to a second-string Ireland, and then an exruciatingly pedestrian win over Madagascar, saw a team whose spirit and pride has vaporised. And that can mean only one thing: Santana has lost the team.
Some argue that he proved his worth at the Confederations Cup. Granted, Bafana played extremely well against Brazil and Spain – and Santana was wise to defy public opinion by packing his midfield in both games. But packing a midfield is not an arcane skill worth R1.4-million a month, or one confined to the brain of Joel Santana. You or I could pick five midfielders, with amazing ease.
At the Confed Cup, Bafana were favoured by a deliciously soft draw, and still nearly squandered Fifa’s kindness. They failed to beat a painfully limited Iraq side, and thus had to pray for New Zealand’s help in the final group round to qualify. Against Brazil and Spain in the knockout rounds, the team were electrified by the voltage of exhilarating home support.
They needed little motivation from Santana – and I’ll wager they got little, given that the old geezer still can’t say anything intelligible in English. He still hasn’t learnt the word “team”, for God’s sake – he sticks doggedly to the Portuguese “equipe”. After well over a year in an Anglophone football job. That’s just unforgivably complacent and lazy.
The word in the camp, off the record, is that he’s clueless.
Apparently, the players laugh unabashedly at his garbled exclamations during training – at him, and not with him, as he assumes. Some of the players want assistant coach Pitso Mosimane to take over, while others want Carlos Alberto Parreira to return.
To be fair, there are glaring weaknesses in the team that Santana can’t be blamed for. Bafana are not a great team ruined by a bad coach. They are a flawed, modestly talented team who are clearly not going anywhere.
To go somewhere at the World Cup, Bafana need a dynamic young coach with genuine charisma. Someone skilled in explaining his thinking to the public, someone popular with the players, someone wise enough to build and improve on the foundations laid by Parreira and Santana.
Someone like Mosimane.
And is it too late to change coaches? I’m with the bird.