“I close my eyes and I take a deep breath and I think about my life and how I ended up this way. I think about the ruin, devastation and wreckage I have caused to myself and to others. I think about self-hatred and self-loathing. I think about how and why and what happened and the thoughts come easily, but the answers don’t.”
No, this is not a reflection of what yours truly might be going through in his life. This was one of the emotive passages from American writer, James Frey’s controversial memoir, A Million Little Pieces.
And this came to mind again earlier this week when I read what newly-appointed Ajax Cape Town Coach Muhsin Ertugral had to say about the state of local football. Especially, the following line: “When I first came to this country in 1999 it was different football that was played. It is getting worse.”
And then I also closed my eyes, took a deep breath and thought of how we could have ended up this way. The ruin, wreckage, and most recently – as depicted in the transfer of Thabo Rakhale from Orlando Pirates to Chippa United – the self-hatred that we find ourselves in as football-loving South Africans.
The transfer window is open and it was always expected that clubs would be releasing players deemed surplus to requirement to make way for new ones that could add more value to their setups going into the final half of the season.
With Mamelodi Sundowns blowing hot and cold at the top of the log and preparing for the Caf Champions league; Kaizer Chiefs looking for their first silverware under the beleaguered Steve Komphela; Orlando Pirates looking to improve under Micho Sredojevic; and the defending champions Bidvest Wits and Ajax Cape Town threatened by relegation, respectively, some major movements were expected, for one reason or the other.
Among those who were released was Pirates’ dribbling wizard Thabo Rakhale. You see, it is not so much about Rakhale per se, but the reasons advanced for his release.
According to Pirates Chairman Dr Irvin Khoza, “Football is not about how many tricks you did but it is about goals scored and goals created. Rakhale holds the ball for so long while the likes of (Thamsanqa) Gabuza are making runs in the box. You need to take on players like Thabo Qalinge and Luvuyo Memela do. I think Chippa United’s style of play will suite Rakhale. We gave him the chance.”
Looking at this statement and its discrepancies, various thoughts flock to mind.
The first line is to a large extent one of the reasons why stadiums used to fill up to the rafters and also why many no longer see the need the attend matches – simply because the entertainment factor is no longer there. Yes, there are many other reasons the number of fans going to matches has plummeted; like the fact that with satellite TV fans are spoilt for choice with access to many football leagues around the world, etc. However, the lack of the entertainment factor is one of the major contributors.
This brings back memories of former Tottenham Hotspur Coach Glenn Hoddle who chastised former Pirates dribbling wizard Sailor Tshabalala for showboating when the English played against the Buccaneers. Pirates won the match 2-1 and the English were fuming after that match.
Hoddle’s criticism of Tshabalala’s style of play is the mentality that was meant to belittle the African talent and inspire self-hatred which would result in the drop in the standard of the game at Pirates, PSL, South Africa and Africa in general.
Hoddle, and many others like him who propagate this neo-colonialism, sought to convince us that there was a particular way of playing football – the English/Dutch way. This was one of the ways they could thwart the development of the game in this continent and have Africans, not only bleaching their skins to look lighter, wearing foreign weaves to ‘fit in’, etc. but also having African football become a poor hybrid of English/Dutch football.
These people have succeeded in poisoning the development of the game in Africa right at development with many establishments masquerading as football development academies. There, young aspiring football stars are taught not to hold on to the ball like Thabo Rakhale, never to dribble, trap and pass and run hard into spaces, keep moving forward, hit the ball hard, save time on the ball, not to pass the ball around too much, get the ball forward as fast as possible, etc. They are told to attack on instruction rather than because there’s an opportunity to launch an attack. Check the rate of turnovers, how ball possession is lost in the PSL as a result of misplaced football dogma.
And then it surprises us when we fail to replace the likes of Doctor Khumalo who was never told not to dribble and hold on to the ball and went on to lead SA to becoming the best team in the continent. The same player, playing the African way, went on to make headlines in America and Argentina. This is the player that Samuel Eto’o confessed to having looked up to growing up. This was during the time we could produce the likes of David Nyathi who was arguably a better player than Roberto Carlos of Brazil. The list goes on!
You see, thoughts come easily to mind, just as in James Frey’s situation.
The future of players like the late Scara Ngobese (may you not turn in your grave) looked bleak as European coaches flocked to coach in the PSL. Many players failed to realise their potential because they were told “This is a football field, and not a circus for showboating.”
Wait! Let’s get one thing straight here. This is Africa. And here, showboating or whatever you may want to call it, belongs on the field and not circus. It made the likes of Jomo Sono, Ace Ntsolengoe( may you also not turn in your grave), Teenage Dladla, Doctor Khumalo, Teboho Moloi, Zane Moosa, Jabu Pule, Stanton Fredericks, Junaid Hartley, Scara Ngobese (may your soul rest in peace) and many other players.
South Africa is not an extension of Europe. We are not a province of Europe and our people, even those whose ancestors came from those parts of the world, hopefully, do not have any psychological links with that continent in any way, any longer. It is, therefore, time that the African experience – as well as those cultural practices of dominated people – move from the periphery to the centre of our collective consciousness.
A clear, simple case is the contrast of Scara Ngobese – when he became one of the best players in the league under the late Ted Dumitru (may your soul rest in peace) who extensively studied African specificity in football without ever being listened to – against Ngobese’s contribution under the German Ernst Middendorp who knew zilch about African football. Under Mazinyo, as Middendorp was known, Ngobese became one of the worst players in the PSL. And that was his end! Many other players’ potential was never realised at the hands of such coaches who didn’t understand them.
That all these coaches inundated our football and threatened its existence is bad, but it is heart wrenching now to realise that having all these qualities which come so naturally to our players; are what makes us unique; are our strengths; are so effective in getting results … it is heart wrenching that while these special qualities could cost a player a place in the team depending on who the coach is, they can now get you kicked out of a club.
That … that is … it kills any hope of the resurrection of the African game if even our club administrators have adopted such self-hatred. For any African football person, in whatever capacity, to admonish African flair … that is self-hatred! This is who we are and we are fighting it! We are victimising our jewels for shining.
Make no mistake. This is not to imply Rakhale is the best player in the league or need not any sort of correction to improve his game. No! But all the reasons stated for his loan to Chippa United are coachable and correctable shortcomings.
That Rakhale holds on to the ball too much can be corrected. But even then, who says there’s anything that needs to be corrected there in the world where possession football is taking over? Players that are able to hold on to the ball are highly sought-after. But possession football requires a special quality of player and those few ones who, sporadically, exhibit such qualities might end up being frowned upon. But that cannot be their fault, let alone they be victimised for it. Instead, we should concern ourselves with developing more of such.
Did I just say develop? There’s a crisis at development level.
There’s nothing wrong with Thamsanqa Gabuza running into spaces. But running around should not be falsely glorified as progressive play, especially in a country as rich as SA. It has been proven over and over again that SA players can only optimize their attacking potential through a phase of patient build-ups where the elements of tactical disguise, creative ball work and surprise can be prepared. This phase should then be followed by speedy attacks. At high speed of running, accuracy, effective tactical and ball work disguise and elements of surprise cannot be mentally processed.
What is interesting here is that Rakhale was dumped to Chippa United – actually the only team that from the time it was coached by Dan “Dance” Malesela has been playing the type of football that reflects traits of what should form the basis of the currently non-existent South African identity.
Tebogo Moloi might not have all the fancy qualifications, but from his upbringing and his playing career, he’s a pure product of the South African football and yes, Jomo, as Rakhale is named after an SA football legend, is most likely in good hands at Chippa. For that, we thank you Iron Duke! But may, in future, players fall out of favour with irrelevant coaches like Micho, but, by all means, not fall out of favour with such honourable club administrators.
Muhsin is right. South African football is a mess.
I think about how and why and what happened, and the thoughts come easily, and unlike in James Frey’s case, while the answers don’t come to him, in our case, the answers have always been there. But yet, those who are supposed to listen don’t bother. As to why, I have no answer!
Sipho Kekana is a SABC News Sport Analyst