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Jul 18, 2010

Uncertain road ahead for Mosimane

No team has ever won the World Cup under a foreign coach. Perhaps that's why South Africans are welcoming the move to appoint Pitso Mosimane as national coach with such open arms. Maybe they just grew sick of hearing the obscene amounts that Carlos Alberto Parreira and his predecessor Joel Santana were paid (rumour has it that it was in the region of US $240,000 a month). Or it could have something to do with a change of coach equalling yet another opportunity for Bafana Bafana to get on the road to progression more than 14 years after being crowned African champions. Whichever one it is, they are united in the support of the decision for Mosimane to succeed Parreira.

Mosimane becomes the 16th national coach in 18 years since South Africa was readmitted into international football. He is the ninth South African to take charge of the team, which does leave one wondering why South African sentiment was so skewed towards having a local coach - they've had eight others and it didn't seem to make much difference. The difference is that Mosimane comes after a pair of burly Brazilians who were tasked with turning Bafana Bafana into match-winners ahead of the World Cup. We all know how that turned out, and it left South Africans with a sour taste in their mouths about foreign coaches.

Parreira grew to be fairly well-liked as the World Cup drew on, but he was always seen as a man of too much talk and too little action. Joel Santana was despised. Sent rather than chosen, Parreira's placeholder, so to speak, refused to use more than one striker. One of his worst qualities was that he refused to learn English and, although he had a string of attractive interpreters at his disposal, everyone eventually figured out that Santana surely had no means of communicating with the players. The "we speak the language of football" argument didn't work and that was what drove the calls for a local coach.

The public wanted someone who could understand and relate to the players and who knew the local set-up. Mosimane fulfils those criteria exactly. He is a product of the South African system. He started playing football at Jomo Cosmos, the club owned and managed by Jomo Sono, a stalwart of South African football. Two years later, he moved to Mamelodi Sundowns for a record transfer fee. He also played at the much-loved Soweto giants Orlando Pirates, before spending time in Greece at Ionikos FC, in Belgium at Rita Berlaar FC and in Qatar at Al Saad. Throughout that time, he represented the national side as well.

Mosimane started coaching in 1999, when he set up an academy in Soweto called Barney Molokane. It was at that academy that he got his big break in the Premier Soccer League (PSL). He was noticed when four of the players at the academy were recruited for SuperSport United, based in Pretoria. The club also made Mosimane an offer to join them as their assistant coach. He became the head coach at SuperSport in the year 2000 and in the six years that he was in charge they ended as runners-up in the PSL twice.

Mosimane was the caretaker coach of Bafana Bafana in 2006, while they were waiting for Parreira to arrive. He was in charge for seven games and he only lost one. That one defeat came against Egypt. In the meantime, SuperSport had contracted Gavin Hunt, under whom they won three PSL titles and are currently defending champions. While Hunt has had a lot to do with their newfound success and lost a lot of the players that played for the club when Mosimane was in charge, some part of the three magical seasons SuperSport have had must still be attributed to the new Bafana Bafana coach.

He is the first man to be both a player and a coach for Bafana Bafana and, while that combination did not prove successful for Dunga or Diego Maradona, South Africans think the results will be different for Mosimane. There's already a lot of expectation on his shoulders, without anyone saying it directly, with local coaches and former players welcoming his appointment, calling it the right decision. Will they be as happy to admit that Mosimane's was a correct promotion if he doesn't bring about positive change for the national team? Perhaps not, and that only adds to the pressure.

Mosimane seems well aware of what he has to do and so, in his first press conference, he asked for time. He explained that with a bit of patience from the public, he will be able to prove his ability to the nation. Unfortunately for Mosimane, time is not on his side. His first assignment will be a friendly match against Ghana. Luckily it's a friendly and if the marketers jump on the Bafana Bafana versus BaGhana BaGhana bandwagon, then there shouldn't be too much bad blood if South African can't put out the Black Stars.

After that, the real test begins when Africa Cup of Nations' (AFCON) qualifiers start. Lesley Sedibe, South African football association president, said that Mosimane has been given specific performance goals. Three of those are to ensure South Africa qualify for the 2012 and 2014 AFCON tournaments and the 2014 World Cup. Just the first of those three missions is going to tough. Bafana are grouped with Egypt, Sierra Leone and Niger, and at least one of those teams (Egypt) will require a supreme effort to beat.

What Mosimane can bank on in that endeavour, for now at least, is the support of a nation. What he needs to do is increase that support, not just among the people by giving them results, but among all those in the football fraternity. The biggest complaint local coaches had about Santana was that he never went to speak to them, to any PSL matches, or to training, and he had no idea of the talent pool in any of the clubs. Mosimane is likely to be more in touch, more communicative and more aware of what's happening in the level below the national team. In turn, that level must serve Mosimane by developing at a quick rate, so the players he has to choose from get better in his tenure.

The duration of that tenure is anyone's guess. On average, the Bafana coach has not lasted more than 13 and a half months. AFCON qualifiers end next September and that's close enough to 13-and-a-half away for Mosimane to know that, unless Bafana Bafana have qualified for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon by then, he may just be another statistic to cement that average.

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