Bafana Bafana have a long way to go to recapture the imagination and form that saw then conquer Africa in 1996, but with the Confederations Cup just around the corner, new head coach Joel Santana gets his last chance to run the rule over his players when they host Cameroon in the Nelson Mandela Challenge at Olympia Park next Wednesday night before naming his squad to prepare for the highly competitive event which kicks off in Johannesburg on June 14 next year.
Former Bafana star striker and winner of the coveted African Nations Cup winners medal in 1996, Shaun Bartlett, points out three worrying factors affecting Bafana in the run-up to the Confederations Cup. They are the fact Bafana failed under Santana to qualify for the 2010 African Nations Cup finals in Angola, and thePortuguese speaking Santana’s failure to learn English since he took over Bafana at the end of May. Also that key players such as Bafana skipper Aaron Mokoena, are not player regularly for their European clubs.
Under Santana Bafana failed for the first time since 1994 to reach the continental finals. Said Bartlett: “That was a big blow. The 2010 Afcon finals would have been the ideal preparation for the World Cup and would have kept the players busy with proper competitive matches and not friendly games.”
Bartlett in a straight talking interview said contrary to statements from some SA Football Association bosses that it was a “blessing in disguise” not reaching Angola, it was a big opportunity missed.
“Friendly games are well and good but there is nothing to beat official competitive matches. Playing in a big tournament like the Afcon would have helped the players tune up and get ready for the World Cup finals.”
Bartlett also believes the weak link is Bafana’s defence and not the strikers and has a piece of advice for Mokoena – move out of English outfit Blackburn Rovers. “I cannot remember the last time Mokoena started for Rovers and he should get a new club as quickly as possible. I know his manager, Rob Moore, is looking at this possibility. But by not play regularly for his club Mokoena is not doing his international career any good.
“He is the national team leader and needs to play regularly at club level. How can he command respect from the other Bafana players if he does not play regularly at club level? Also he has players such as Matthew Booth now breathing down his neck and his position in the team cannot be a certainty.”
Bartlett said Mokoena is in demand in the English Premiership and should use the January transfer window to find a new club. Bartlett played for Charlton Athletic in the English Premiership from 2000-06. He added: “Players need to play regularly at club level. I also feel our players should strive to play in top European leagues rather than Israel or Scandinavia where the game is not as strong as say England.” Bartlett (36) who played 74 times for Bafana scoring 29 goals, added the fact Santana cannot communicate in English after six months in the country is a huge problem. “What amazes me is Safa (the SA Football Association) have not got an English tutor for Santana. It is a rule in Europe if you cannot speak the language of the country, then the national association – as was the case with Fabio Capello who took over as England manager recently – hires a tutor.”
Bartlett, like millions of fans, is at a loss as to how Santana gets his message across to his players. “It must be confusing for the players trying to figure out what he wants, especially on the field.” On Cameroon, Bartlett saidIf they bring their star players as they have promised, it is going to be competitive for Bafana. “Hopefully the players get the necessary workout and the coach must then get a group of 16 to 18 players assembled early next year and prepare them for the next 18 months and leave the door open for players to force their way into contention.”
Santana names his squad to play Cameroon on Thursday.