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October 22, 2009

Written in the entrails

Photo courtesy Chris Kirchhoff

And so it is. As the portents foretold. Joel Santana has bit the golden bullet and is no longer South Africa’s national football coach.

Some say it was evident in the way that the pigeons flew and from the mellifluous mooing of the Nguni cows. Others pointed to Santana’s lack of real coaching pedigree, a recent win/loss ratio which looks like someone fell asleep on the “L” key, or the fact that the South African Football Association (Safa) has a long history of firing the national coach on the eve of major tournaments.

Whichever way you look at it and whichever crystal ball you use, the fact of the matter is that Safa’s firing of Bafana Bafana coach Santana is a cock-up, and don’t let anybody deceive you into thinking that it’s not. And what it means is that South Africa will see their collective ass when the World Cup rolls into town.

It’s a case of Safa’s cock-up, our ... well, you get the picture.

South Africa now have precious little time to prepare for next year’s tournament and the careful (we assume) plans and preparations that Santana put in place for next year’s World Cup are out the window.

And so it is. As the portents foretold. With lamentable predictability, Jomo Sono’s name has cropped up as either the direct replacement for Santana, or as part of the team that will replace him.

Some say it was evident in the fact that Safa is about as original as an alcoholic who likes booze. Others agree.

Famous for his ability to spot talent – ever heard of MacBeth Sibaya, or Benni McCarthy? Well no one had until Sono put them into the national side – and his goal celebration during the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, Sono looks set to become Carlos Alberto Parreira’s technical director on Friday.

With Bafana Bafana now stranded up a creek that smells like a midden without any type of propulsion device, South Africa now go into the World Cup they are hosting with the odds heavily in their favour of becoming the worst host nation in the history of the tournament.

Philosophical generosity suggests that we view Parreira’s imminent arrival like the return of the prodigal son. Few will dispute that, under Parreira, Bafana started to look like a football team and less like 11 indolent layabouts wandering gormlessly around a field. And if someone does have to take over a few seconds before Cinderella turns back into a pumpkin, or whatever, he’s the man to do it.

It is, however, worth remembering that in the Bible, the prodigal son took his share of his father’s inheritance, pissed it away and then returned when things got a little sticky in the “distant land” that he had travelled to.

It is also worth noting that I am unaware of a single success story in football where the power is not completely in the sole coach’s hands. Sono and Parreira, and whomever else will be thrown in the mix (Clive Barker’s name’s popped up as well) will have to work out very quickly how to get along in order for South Africa to stand any chance of not embarrassing themselves next year.

But perhaps that’s the point. If Parreira, Sono and the rest of we’re-up-the-same-foul-smelling-creek-mentioned-above gang fail, everyone gets to safely point fingers at someone else.

Parreira et al will point to the magnificent inefficiencies and stupidity of Safa; Safa will point at the coaches; the fans will point at one of Safa, the coaching team, or the players; and the media will point at everyone.

Everyone gets to walk away feeling vindicated that they spotted what had gone wrong, while the note in football World Cup history will record in harsh detail that South Africa became the first country to fail to reach the second round of the tournament they were hosting.

And so it is. As the portents foretold.

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