I once wrote a post about rugby. I might as well write a post about soccer.
Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana is being pursued and villified as THE ONE. The one and only reason our soccer team cannot win matches. On the weekend, they again lost to Norway, and the talk is that the three-man team to assess Bafana is more of a firing squad.
The World Cup is getting closer, and our fans are getting angry (and apparently the players too). "Fire the coach!" we hear, "he's useless, and is just here for the money!" (which is stupid, even if you don't like the man, you can see he is committed and doing the best he can).
What everyone ignores is that our national soccer team has been in a long, long slide to mediocrity, if the FIFA ranking is a yardstick:
Santana inherited a team that's been in a downward spiral for almost 12 years. Look at the graph:. In 1996 South Africa was ranked 16th - it's highest ever. Twelve years later, and the team's average ranking for the year 2008 is 76, and for 2007 it was 77. They've been hovering around 70/72/73 for the last few months of 2009.
So what is frustrating is that we have a team, AND administration AND a coach that cannot seem to get Bafana out of the 70's. All of them, none of them. There seems to be no upward trend, no movement in the right direction, even if we're not sliding either.
We must be very honest with ourselves: we are not world beaters. There will be no fairy tale. If they scrape through to the 2010 second round it will be by showing the commitment they did in the Confed Cup, but Bafana Bafana are not a world soccer force anymore. It's difficult to accept that, living in a country with very successful rugby and cricket teams, both Commonwealth-originated sports with a much smaller global following, and therefore a much smaller competition base.
If it was a business, to turn something like that ugly graph around will take...I guess... at least three years. Three years of doing things completely different, in a different national soccer environment, with different players and a different coach, and then you'll still be lucky. What do we do? We blame the current coach - the last in a long line of failures - for everything. And to turn the knife, we use as proof of how useless he is, his record of losing seven out of eight friendly internationals (as the world's 73rd ranked country) against Ireland (38th), Germany (4th), Serbia (13th), Spain (twice) (2nd), Brazil (1st), Norway (43rd)!
If we won any of those games, it would have been an upset. A miracle. That's what rankings tell us: over time, by winning and losing so many games, scoring so many goals, your team's relative strength is xx. In your case 73rd.
I say it again. We are not world beaters.
And next time Bafana Bafana play, I will support them and shout for them and swear at them and hope they can prove me wrong.