The secret to Shakes’ success
Written by Mosibodi Whitehead
Bafana Bafana’s 2-2 draw against Nigeria was a historical moment in the history of South African football. After years of underachievement and continental embarrassment, South Africa finished an unbeaten AFCON 2015 qualification campaign with a rousing draw away from home. Indeed even before last night’s match, Bafana’s achievements were already being celebrated – the team qualified for Equatorial Guinea 2015 with a game to spare. But last night’s draw against The Super Eagles will forever be remembered as the day South Africa reasserted itself as an African football powerhouse.
The turnaround has been astonishing! To think that this is the same team that couldn’t beat Ethiopia just 18 months ago. No disrespect to the Wayla Antelopes but that 2-1 loss in Addis Ababa after Bernard Parker’s cracking own goal effectively ended Bafana’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, is truly one of the lowest moments in the history of South African sport. Add to that the shameful 5-0 home loss to Brazil in March and one begins to understand the magnitude of the team’s recent improvement.
What’s changed? Simple answer: Ephrahim shakes Mashaba. When Gordon Igesund’s contract wasn’t renewed by SAFA in July a host of big names were suggested as possible incumbents to take over what was at the time, one of the most difficult coaching jobs on the continent. The likes of former Bafana mentor Carlos Quieroz and Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi were mentioned, with many (myself included) giving Shakes Mashaba little chance of being appointed by a South African Football Administration that had shown it’s penchant for big name coaches with hefty price tags.
The fact that South African Football Federation President Dr. Danny Jordaan’s 9 month old administration chose Mashaba over the likes of Queiroz and Keshi must be applauded as a step of real bravery. Mashaba’s success with the junior national teams including the U23’s at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the national U20’s at the COSAFA Championships just 6 months prior is what pushed Jordaan and company to select a man that was tasked with rebuilding a more youthful and sustainable Bafana. And that has been the key to Shakes’ success. His selection of young players that is willing to die for him and the jersey. Unlike his predecessors, Mashaba has delivered on his promise of selecting players on form regardless of their age. Under Mashaba’s tenure Ajax Cape Town defender Rivaldo Coetzee became the youngest player to represent Bafana just a week shy of his 18th birthday, when Shakes selected him for a tough match away match against Congo in Point Noire.
But perhaps Mashaba’s real genius is his humility and nurturing spirit in camp. In a country where too many township boys grow up without positive father-figures, Mashaba is turning boys into men with his caring yet forthright coaching style. Veteran Bafana defender Matthew Booth who played in that famous U23 side that beat Brazil at the 2000 Olympics speaks fondly of how Bra Shakes created a family atmosphere of trust and camaraderie in the camp. Mashaba himself has admitted to favour working with younger players because he is able to influence them to make good choices on and off the pitch.
Perhaps then that is the secret to successful coaching in South African football. Because what has been said about Bra Shakes has also been said about Clive Barker – the only coach to guide Bafana to winning the Africa Cup of Nations. For me, it’s a little surprising. Given the painful history of our country, I think treating people with love and respect will always bring the best out of them.