Are selfish PSL clubs weakening Bafana Bafana?

Bafana Bafana beat the mighty footballing nation of Mauritius 3-0 at the Dobsonville Stadium on Saturday afternoon. But, despite the victory, the lack of respect clubs show for their players’ national team call-ups is nothing to be proud of, writes MICHAELSON GUMEDE. 

Two days before playing Mauritius in a 2016 African Nations Championship (Chan) qualifier, Bafana Bafana faced the grim possibility of having to forfeit the match after 12 players were withdrawn from the national team camp, leaving only 10 players in the company of Mashaba & Co.

Three training sessions had earlier been called off due to players being unavailable. Teams that recalled their players include Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns, SuperSport United, Bidvest Wits and Ajax Cape Town, who said that they needed their players to begin pre-season preparations. Ironically, while Ajax Coach Roger De Sá has been complaining about his players being overlooked for the national team, when the call-up came he chose to recall them.

Mashaba made replacements and managed to get six more players on board in time for a single training session on Friday. Regardless of how poor a team they are to face, training as a team is essential if any national squad is to win matches. Taking an opponent for granted can be dangerous: we all remember how Orlando Pirates were walloped 4-1 by Maluti FET College in February 2013.

When Botswana defeated Bafana 7-6 on penalties in the Cosafa Cup last month, it should’ve been an eye opener for Mashaba – never underestimate your opponent.

In a country where we blow our own trumpet about having the best league in the continent, we have a surprisingly weak national team. Instead, we have been “rebuilding” since 2011 – sometimes it appears as if we are rebuilding in every game.

As far as soccer is concerned, Orlando Pirates is the only South African team that is still involved in any continental competition – the 2015 Orange CAF Champions League. However, according to SABC sports journalist Velile Mbuli, SuperSport United withdrew its players from the Bafana squad for Saturday’s game, reasoning that they are tired.

This brings us to the question of how far local teams are prepared to go for the national team. When you look at players in other leagues, the likes of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Alexis Sanchez, to name only a few, have been playing cup final after cup final, yet we still see them representing their national teams in the Copa America, a tournament equivalent to the Africa Cup of Nations. Never will you ever hear that a Neymar was withdrawn from the Brazilian national team because he was tired.

How players expect to perform for the national team if they don’t take every opportunity to train as a team and represent Bafana? Every chance should be grabbed with both hands to maximise their national experience, or else we will forever be forced to go back 19 years ago to talk about the best of Bafana.

Club owners and coaches sometimes appear to lack patriotism. One may argue that it was just Mauritius – a team that didn’t pose any threat – but what if we were standing face-to-face with an opponent like Nigeria? Had we had a weakened Bafana side, it would’ve been a national soccer disaster.

As serious and as complex this situation was for Mashaba, the player-withdrawal saga saw some supporters on social media make a mockery of the situation.

As soccer lovers, we were afforded an opportunity to laugh about the situation because it was Mauritius, ranked 176 compared to Bafana Bafana’s 69th spot in the world rankings. In his post-match interview, Mashaba alluded to the fact that Mauritius is not a team that scares Bafana, saying that even in the away fixture, the Mauritians should be afraid.

Regardless of Chan being a tournament for local-based players – and one that is unrecognised on the Fifa calendar – national pride should be the number one priority where our coaches and club owners are concerned.

Bafana Bafana will never become world beaters – or even continent beaters – should such behaviour persist. If withdrawing players becomes the norm, Bafana will always be the laughing stock of African football.

– Featured image: Via the GovernmentZA Flickr stream.

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