GORDON IGESUND is ready to unveil his “master plan” with new SAFA president Danny Jordaan – and he firmly believes he can put South African football in the world’s top 20.
Currently ranked 61st by FIFA and cruelly forced out of the World Cup by Ethiopia, Igesund was eager to appear on my football show BOLLOCKZ! to reassure Bafana fans: “We are on the right track. It won’t happen overnight, but we will reap the benefits.”
With detractors suggesting Puma had ended their sponsorship of Bafana yesterday – they actually announced their termination on January 4 this year - Igesund insists: “It’s been a very tough year but the national team has come on in leaps and bounds, we need to put things in perspective.
“When you really start looking at the whole situation, one can see there’s been huge improvement. Over the last year we’ve restored pride and passion in the team. A lot of commitment from the players.
“Previously it was just a static situation, the same group of players playing every week for Bafana. We’ve introduced a lot of young players to the squad, our technical team has worked hard to find them.”
Turning specifically to last Friday’s 1-1 draw against Morocco in Agadir, where a packed house of 46,000 were celebrating the opening of a glittering new stadium, Igesund pointed out: “Against a team with a lot of good players from Spain and Germany, people who play against players like Ronaldo and Messi every week, we put up a performance.
“Passion, commitment. It makes me happy. We had two 20-year-olds, two 21-year-olds. It wasn’t actually a well-drilled team, it was our first match together. Playing for your national team should be the ultimate for any player.
“Now I’m getting emails from South Africans all over the world. Players who play in the Scottish Second Division asking me to keep an eye on their performances.”
Appointed last year after disappointing World Cup Group A draws against Ethiopia at home and Botswana away, Igesund – the only man to win the domestic PSL title with four different clubs – reflects: “Overall it’s been a great year. Very positive things have happened. It’s not easy to go to Morocco, they were desperate to win. My centre-halves had never played together before. These things take time.
“There were five or six players who had never played together before. There was a period when we were playing the ball around, their fans starting applauding us.
“We’ve got a new identity now. The same style, philosophy, we want to attack teams. We’re scoring goals. I’m happy with the way things are going but there is an awful lot of work still to do.
“The big problem is development. Imagine if our youngsters had played in Under 17, Under 20 teams. Some of these guys? It was their first taste of international fooball at any level
“We need to develop players for the national team. They’ve had to come straight in to the Bafana line-up.
“Our Under 17s and Under 20s aren’t active at the moment. But we’re working on that. We need players coming through who know how to react, know their role. It’s not easy but we’re getting there.
“We need to make sure our players are involved in FIFA competitions, play in Europe, play the German Under 23 team. Gain that experience. That’s what’s important.
“That’s all going to happen. The announcement of our new Under 17 and Under 23 coaches will happen in the next couple of weeks. We want a youngster of 21 to have played 30 games for Bafana.
“We acknowledge things haven’t been done properly in recent years. We have to stop the quick-fix. Look for long term solutions. But it takes time.
“The structures are all in place, we just have to make the announcement. Kagiso Nthle is only 19. He needs to grow up playing against players like Ronaldo, Under 15, Under 17, eventually they get to the senior national team and THEY KNOW. They can mark him, they can do this.
“It’s all very exciting but it’s not going to happen overnight. In five or six years, we’ll see the benefits. There’s another group of players out there we don’t know about. Players who are going to be the superstars, as we’re talking, 20 youngsters of 15 or 16 with tremendous ability. We have to develop them.
“We need top quality coaches, the school football, the amateurs at grass roots level. Even from nine years old. Real Madrid have just beaten Barcelona to sign a NINE YEAR OLD! That’s what we need to be doing.
“Time flies. He’s NINE now, but in five years he’s a professional signing for a club. We were isolated for many years, now we have to find these players.
“I can talk about it with you for hours and hours, but we have to put it into practice, which we haven’t done for years.
“Every player who plays for Bafana HAS to come through our structures. Our AFCON and COSAFA squads? We had 17 players who had NEVER played for Bafana at any other level.
“Our football will be among the best in the world. We have the players, with touch, mobility. They need good coaching. They need these structures. But it’s not going to happen overnight. We have to start the process now. This is why we are where we are right now.
“When I read the Sports Minister’s comments, I was very pleased about this. Everyone can see the national team has come on in leaps and bounds. I enjoy criticism, football is about opinions, but reall and truly, we are on the right track now.
“We’ve got tough times ahead of us, but after that, our country will benefit. We’ll be in the top 20 in the world, the top three in Africa.
“Sometime in the future there has to be an African winner of the World Cup. Why can’t that be South Africa?”
BOLLOCKZ! my show on www.ballz.co.za, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on www.YouTube.com for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.
You can also follow me on www.twitter.com/nealcol for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal and Pray” column every Tuesday inwww.thenewage.co.za.
BOLLOCKZ! is backed by www.topodds.com - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!