Joel Santana’s poor record as coach of Bafana Bafana, Confederations Cup performances aside, finally came to an end on Monday when he was relieved of his national duties.
Under his reign, South Africa failed to qualify for the 2010 African Nations Cup, which was a must in terms of 2010 World Cup preparations, and in recent times the Brazilian has registered an embarrassing record of eight defeats in nine matches with the national side.
In short, it was time for Santana to go. The South African Football Association’s newly elected committee took a decision to save the country from further embarrassment during their first official meeting on Monday, even before the three assessors they appointed to assess the team had tabled their report. Interestingly, all three of the assessors are being considered as a potential candidate to take over from the sacked technician.
Santana’s assistants Pitso Mosimane and Jairo Leal have been appointed caretaker coaches until a suitable candidate has been identified to lead the country to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, in the hope that a new leadership could breathe some fresh life into a seemingly stale national set-up, which is dropping in the FIFA rankings to new lows, while a set of strikers playing locally and abroad fail to score any goals to give some pride back to a country that is famous for its sporting abilities in other sports codes.
With Santana now out of the way and South Africa getting ready to host 31 of the world’s best footballing nations in eight months time, SAFA need to get the new coach into the national team setup as soon as possible. One has to believe that they had a plan in mind when relieving Santana of his duties, and perhaps the return of one Carlos Alberto Parreira is on the cards.
The front runners seem to be Brazilian former Bafana head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, SuperSport United's Gavin Hunt and Gordon Igesund of Maritzburg United, while Clive Barker and Jomo Sono are outside hopefuls for the opportunity.
In the past few years the South Africa FA have taken their decisions quickly, and it has been a debate of local versus international in terms of the man in charge of Bafana’s best eleven. Though certain foreign coaches have done relatively well with the squad, it seems that local coaches such as Clive Barker, with the 1996 African Nations Cup title and Jomo Sono, with a good showing at the 2002 World Cup where Bafana crashed out due to a respectable 3-2 loss to Spain in the final group game, have gotten the best out of the players.
Parreira had similar successes towards the end of his reign, with the players beginning to feel comfortable with an attacking style of play that the former World Cup winning coach had adopted. In his final game in charge of South Africa, they beat Paraguay 3-0, with their most famous and comprehensive victory over South African opposition.
Santana will not be missed by South African football fans or the local media. He was out of his depth at international level and never improved during his 16 months in charge. In fact, Bafana fell to their worst world raking ever - 85th this month. His poor command of English did not help his cause, nor did his defensive tactics, which were roundly criticised.
South Africa have not scored more than a goal in a game since the Confederations Cup, and it would be strange to see them doing so now following a terrible string of results where only four goals have been scored in the last ten encounters. Firepower is a major issue, and one that many people believe could be solved by the reintroduction of the country’s most prolific striker, Benni McCarthy.
The Blackburn Rovers attacker has not been picked for the side since before the Confederations Cup, and an end to Santana’s stubborn approach may finally see the return of the star. Along with this, a new coach could potentially return a few others exiled by Santana, such of Racing Santander regular and Bafana’s experienced defender, Nasief Morris, also booted before the June tournament.
With a few old faces returning and perhaps the inclusion of some in form youngsters, Santana’s negative legacy may be broken. One of the major criticisms launched at the Brazilian was his laziness in terms of going to local PSL games and talking to coaches of the South African club sides. England coach Fabio Capello provides a great example, and he can often be seen at a number of Premier League and Champions League matches, keeping an eye on his flock. Santana was not a coach in the same mould however, and he relied too heavily on his assistants, without making the effort himself. This led to a number of in form players such as Richard Henyekane, Daine Klate and Calvin Kadi missing callups despite scoring bucket loads of goals in the league.
SAFA is set to name its new head coach at its executive meeting in Johannesburg on Friday, but the smart money seems to be on Parreira taking back the reins. Parreira, who won the World Cup with Brazil in 1994 in the United States, quit as head coach of Bafana last April citing his wife's illness as his reason.
He was the person who recommended Santana but, according to recent newspaper reports in The Star, he would be happy to return and take charge of the squad for the 2010 World Cup if asked as long as Santana is out of the way. It is speculated that SAFA has already done a background deal with Parreira, and the official announcement is to follow, but all will be revealed soon.
A number of South African coaches have been staking their claim over the Bafana bench, but despite having won an unprecedented four League titles, local favourite Gordon Igesund’s lack of international pedigree is seemingly counting against him in the eyes of SAFA.
The same must be said of SuperSport coach Gavin Hunt, despite his willingness to take over. Sono and Barker have the experience at international level, and the two old war horses of South African football know the ins and outs of the national side, while the players have immense respect for both of the men.
Santos coach Boebie Solomons spoke to SuperSport recently and he made a good case for Parreira to return if none of the local coaches take over. Solomons attended a coaching course with Parreira in 1995, and he believes that the Brazilian should be the only foreign coach to be considered. He also said Santana had to give way.
"Something had to give. Bafana were spiralling out of control and could have been an embarrassment at the World Cup had things continued to be allowed to slide. Parreira is a top class coach. It would not be like a new coach taking charge for the first time if he was reappointed, as he knows the country and players, having been Bafana coach before Santana.
"The players respect Parreira and like working with him. His results may not have been the best when he was in charge of Bafana, but he was building a solid foundation and was on the right track with the national squad."
The Cape Town-based coach makes a great point, and this close to hosting the World Cup, the country cannot afford to be put further off balance, so bringing Parreira back makes sense in that it would be the least destabilizing to the system the team is used to and the players in the side.
Parreira has left the door open for a possible return to South Africa to coach the struggling national team at next year's World Cup after immediately being named among the favorites to replace his fellow Brazilian, Santana.
"There are strong indications that they (South African officials) want to stay with the Brazil school, which is suited perfectly to South African football," Parreira said in an interview on Globonews television. "There's a chance there will be an offer, and I would be inclined to look at it."
Parreira said the job in South Africa would be tough, particularly since the country is also hosting the event with pressure mounting. Bafana Bafana have lost eight of their last nine games. "The coach who takes over will have to break the streak," Parreira said. "Confidence is very low."
Seems like a perfect time for the experienced coach to swoop in and save the host nation, with a great deal riding on their performances at the 2010 tournament, and the legacy of the host nations to protect.