October 20th, 2009
01:26 PM ET

South Africa right to ditch Santana

On the surface, it may seem a strange decision by the South Africa Football Association (SAFA), to sack the coach of their national football team just eight months short of hosting a World Cup.

A glum-looking Santana contemplates his World Cup fate with mascot Zakumi
A glum-looking Santana contemplates his World Cup fate with mascot Zakumi

Is now really the time to unsettle a team under pressure with the replacement of their leader? The answer is clear, but the context is all-important.

The significance of Africa staging an international tournament of such magnitude for the first time needs no restating, but among the greater concerns for local organizers and FIFA alike - on top of anxieties regarding security, accommodation and transportation - is the performance of the host side South Africa.

The momentum and ultimate success of such events rely on a groundswell of domestic support.  Without captivating the attention of the indigenous population - whether in South Korea and Japan, as in 2002, or the United States in 1990 -  there is a fear that games will be played to half-empty stadiums devoid of atmosphere and drama.

Aside from such a potentially embarrassing back-drop for sponsors and traveling fans alike, the financial implications of an early exit of Bafana Bafana could deprive a nation of an important focus for national unity.

Who can forget how the victory of the Springbok rugby team, who won the oval-balled version of the World Cup as hosts in 1995, affected a South Africa emerging from an era of apartheid?

Engagement with the tournament by those living in South Africa then, is a high priority - and the best way to ensure this is for the home side not to get knocked out early.

Unfortunately, for Joel Santana, there was too much riding on his capabilities and perceived under performance as a coach to let his tenure continue any further.

Despite a good showing at the recent Confederations Cup, under the Brazilian's leadership South Africa have dropped to their lowest world rank since 1994 (they are currently 85th).

In a squad where first-class talent is scarce, Santana's inability to coerce all-time record goalscorer Benni McCarthy back to the national cause could be seen as a crucial failure, his team were also accused of playing overly defensive football in an attempt to get results. The potential of pulse-racing performances come the World Cup seemed a distinct outside bet.

In 27 matches in-charge the 60-year-old was defeated 14 times, a statistic that would always have hacks sharpening their pencils considering his monthly wage of $175,000.

What backing remained vanished when eight defeats from his last nine games was followed by ill-judged comments to the press that he had "not been hired to win friendly fixtures." Maybe not, but why not inspire confidence with a win or two?

Santana may have also been wise to look at the history of his employers on accepting his first international coaching role. SAFA are no strangers to making bold decisions in the build up to major competitions: both former bosses Clive Barker and Carlos Queiroz were given the boot just months before the 1998 and 2002 tournaments respectively.

Santana had to go, but the question remains who will replace him? Whoever does takeover the reins of South Africa, the fans of Bafana Bafana will be hoping the drama off the pitch can be replaced with drama on the pitch come June.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Andrew

    The problem never was with Santana, but with the South African Soccer Federation. They never take responsibility for the decisions THEY make (including selecting a coach that needs an interpreter !) They should start cleaning there house first....

    October 20, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  2. Dirk Reinermann

    To change the national coach with only 8 months to go before the Big Cup is a mistake.

    Yes, Bafana Bafana have had a bad loosing streak in their latest test matches (8/9), and the team really didn't look good. But anyone who watched them play in the Confed Cup on home soil saw that they have the physical strength, the tactical skill and the "oomph" to play well, especially on home ground with Vuvuzela's blasting into the opponents ears until they are dizzy.

    Unfortunately the Confed Cup also raised expectations at home beyond reality. South Africa is still a developing soccer nation, that's the whole idea of FIFA bringing the Cup here. There is ample talent here, but the professional league does not yet have the breadth and the depth to put together a national squad that can play on par with the big teams. Soccer still is underfunded compared to Rugby and Cricket.

    The time will come when SA soccer will be able to compete internationally, just look at what the USA has done in the past decade. And in the meantime what "the boys" really need is a steady hand to guide them. Building a team in this environment is not a matter of months, but years. Santana's firing is a mistake.

    And by the way, German Otto Rehagel (aka "Rehakles") can't order his Souvlaki in Greek, and yet he took the national team to the European Championship in Portugal, and won. Language clearly has nothing to do with it.

    October 20, 2009 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  3. Martha

    In this case the inability of the coach to communicate in english is already a major setback but the real reason is that the players want to become Bafana Bafana just for the glamour of it. All the bling bling and flashy cars and popularity exposure are for the players more important than commitment to soccer. They had already a couple of good coaches whom where sacked because the players did not perform well.

    As long as they are paid such high salaries they will always be at the bottom of the list. Where are the days when it was all about honor and pride?

    October 20, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  4. Munyaradzi Chidakwa

    Language may be a challenge but I don't think even the most eloqent of coaches would change the side's fortunes. There are many aspects of football or spot in general which determine the team's altimate perfomance. Notable among these are team chemistry, even from an individual level there is need for commitment for the national cause. Bafana's body language on their game against Norway showed nothing near a team hosting the world cup in less than 8 months. I wouldn't blame them much as they were haunted by a record of 8 loses in a row.

    I think Bafana's confed cup pperfomance is just about the best they will ever give if they do not use the lessons learnt from the competition to build up. Truth be told, we need players like Bennie MaCathy back in the line up. He is undoubtably the best striker for the team and whatever diffrences he had with SAFA should be put aside, considerin the country has been built on reconcilation.
    For developmental perposes I also suggest that they throw 1 or 2 players from the recent Under 20 tornament.

    October 21, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  5. Joshua

    It is nt the problem of coach, the players dont have good perfomance.
    Imagine brazil even if they dnt have good coach but they will play great as they have good players.
    As south africa has a lot of races , you can jst buy some brazilian to play for you as your players dont perform wel

    October 22, 2009 at 7:13 am | Reply
  6. ntombi

    the players suck as well....santana good riddence.
    the players dont look like professional footballers, no creativity in the field, most of them arent doing well in their clubs either. as for our captain mokoena ...he has got to be the worst captain in the history of Bafana. jeeeeeeeeers

    October 22, 2009 at 10:15 am | Reply
  7. Gareth

    The real problem with South African football is the administration of the game. The domestic league is poorly supported and a significant proportion of the money (and there is plenty of it floating around) attached to the game in this country lands up in the pockets of a select few. It would seem that the management of the beautiful game in South Africa is a reflection of the ugly reality of governance in Africa. Soccer is, however, also a far more competitive sport – in rugby and cricket there are only 8 teams that are competitive at an international level. If the new coach can get us to the second round of the competition it will be the same as winning the rugby or cricket world cup.

    October 26, 2009 at 6:50 am | Reply
  8. Gareth

    As for Benni: I'd rather see us lose playing as a team than win with that self-serving player. There is no substitute for commitment to your country, particularly in Africa where we need it most. Benni is the same as all the professionals that are educated here, or given scholarships to study abroad and then who move abroad and turn their backs on the continent.

    October 26, 2009 at 7:15 am | Reply
  9. Nana Fredua-Agyeman

    the fact is that SA lack talents and it is absolutely difficult to work with blunt tools.

    October 26, 2009 at 10:29 am | Reply
  10. constantinos Pantazopoulos

    Viva Bafana ..getting the world cup is History for Africa and critics should not be aloud to talk about this issue. It brings everyones spirit down. Bafana will be a show with whatever country it plays with and should be given the oppertunity to loose in the world cup before bad mouths can bad mouth.VIVA BAFANA, VIVA AFRICA.

    October 26, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  11. Benson Chitupa

    I don't think eloquence in sport produces the best results. Winfred Schafer, a one time national coach for Cameroon did not even speak the native cameroun language and English but led the team to the finals at Afcon games. Santana was just a victim of the team 's failure. The coach alone cannot win a match, the players are a vital link. The national team has to improve otherwise going further at the world cup finals will be wishful thinking and will remain a fantasy.

    October 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  12. Cassandra

    I'm excited for the millions of soccer fans in SA, even though the vast majority of them won't be able to attend matches (difficult to buy tickets to matches when you can't afford to buy bread). However, I hope that there'll be fan parks where people can enjoy the experience. I'm not a sports fan at all and will probably be the lone South African not watching any matches:) I am concerned about things like lack of transport etc. but hope things will work out and that Bafana will at least try their best. Yes, I'm sure fans will be crushed if they don't make the 2nd round but don't forget the bigger picture – they'll be able to see real soccer stars in action in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    October 28, 2009 at 9:59 am | Reply
  13. MLH

    God himself can't coach a developing team to a World Cup victory. The coach matters, but so does the team's ability to work together and the individual talent. South Africa is up against talent that is unbelievable, and if the SAFA thought they were going to stay in until the latter rounds, they need a reality check. On the other hand, if SA keeps with it, I think they will be a power house in the future, just as South America is today.

    October 28, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Reply
  14. Kenneth Orufuo

    Of course the were right to ditch him. The man was turning the Bafana Bafana to Banana Banana. That's from a funny article I read on africaplays.come

    October 30, 2009 at 7:05 am | Reply
  15. Sunshine

    Discipline and team work is what is lacking in South African soccer side. They are all trying to be the hero in the game, and unfortunately each time they walk off in an international game, as the loosers. Get discpline, team work and a lot of committment and then South Africa will maybe have a chance. The coach is not the problem, it is the players...too much mouth and not enough skills.

    October 31, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  16. MC

    Cassandra I an not sure where you get your information about majority of South Africans unable to buy bread.You probably also believe there are lions and cheetah walking the streets. I think that it is realy rude to be making statements like that. Are you getting anything from reading the CNN Site as well as watching the news. World Wide People are struggling and there are people of all financial back grounds in every country of the world. The soccer will be hosted true African Style and I am sure that millions will be awe of the hospitality they will recieve on our soil. Maybe our soccer is not that grand, but visting our beautifull counrty would be a memory that will last for ever.

    November 6, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  17. magielies

    South Africa have shown the soccer world before that if commited we can win Afcon and be competative internationally.So come on Bafana Bafana up your game ,no return now,2010 is here.You will have the supporters we only need you to pitch.VIVA BAFANA BAFANA

    November 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  18. tobenna

    "But anyone who watched them play in the Confed Cup on home soil saw that they have the physical strength, the tactical skill and the "oomph" to play well, especially on home ground with Vuvuzela's blasting into the opponents ears until they are dizzy."
    The more reason why the Vuvuzela must be banned.
    As much respect as I have for the SAFAN's, the instrument can be distracting.

    November 17, 2009 at 9:02 am | Reply
  19. possetive

    bafana bafana is all hot air and very little substance....so sacking santana is neither going to help or harm them. the world cup will really have arrived in africa the day it takes place in either ghana, cameroon or nigeria. for now we remain (content) with south africa.

    December 14, 2009 at 12:47 am | Reply
  20. reality check

    SAFA is reacting in the same tradition as every other one of our South African governing bodies, too little, too late and totally incompetently.

    How many SA coaches have been fired in the last 15 years (one of whom then became Real Madrid coach)? Bafana bafana have never had the luxury of a long-standing coach's training programme and have always been left deserted at the last moment before major games – including world cups.

    The incompetent governance in South African affairs is becoming a boring and predictable discussion – I doubt this will ever change in a country run by the power-hungry fools who can't see further than their ruling terms. It's unsustainable and nothing good can come of this repetitious nonsense.

    Give bafana a real chance without dropping the players in the lurch and the country without a chance of supporting a winning combination.

    Bringing back Benny McCarthy won't help: he's too old and it's not about him. His superiors will mess it up. Just you watch...

    December 21, 2009 at 4:18 am | Reply
  21. Kevin

    Sorry to say folks but the 2010 Soccer World Cup will be a failure for South Africa with or without Joel Santana. I'm not only talking about the 'soccer side' of things. I'm talking about the shortcomings in transportation, security and the likes. The upcoming World Cup will be regrettably remembered as 'The 2010 Crime Expo'.

    January 4, 2010 at 6:31 am | Reply
  22. Salomao

    In my opinion, i do say that Clive Baeker is the only Coach suitable for the team, since he is the only one with the CUP. i can bet anyone who might say Clive is nothing, for i do prove contrary.

    January 5, 2010 at 6:44 am | Reply

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