It is getting harder and harder to write these blogs as another weekend passes by without any local football. While it is great to see the Ajax squad out and about, spreading the word in the communities of Khayelitsha and Paarl, we would really prefer to see them on the pitch, even though it’s hard work watching the side play through its recent struggles.
It was cup football that held us up last weekend, but this time out it was international football. In many parts of the footballing world international games are very much second best to domestic football. Bafana do their best to test South African football fans to the very limits of their endurance, but still the fixtures keep coming. In fact, if we count the Olympics, this season the national team has now played six times in four different competitions, while AjaxCT have played just four PSL games. As defending champions Sundowns have played just once. I made the point in last week’s blog that the PSL should be the jewel in our footballing crown. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this continues to irritate me, and I suspect many other football fans that prefer to watch their teams live in actual stadiums.
One solution to this might be to play all international qualification games in a short intensive period. Almost like a mini-tournament over a few weeks. This would mean that we do not need constant breaks in the domestic calender. If we need friendlies they could be scheduled in mid-week slots, but really who needs these games anyway? Coaches already know everything there is to know about the players they are selecting and systems, and team formations could be worked on in scheduled training camps rather than games that eat into our regular football time. The downside of this approach is that if a key player is injured during the qualification period they would likely miss the entire qualification campaign rather than just one or two games. FIFA should also standardize this so that a player that is suspended misses the nest game unlike the bizzare situation with Burkina Faso defender Steve Yago, who started against Bafana on Saturday despite having being red carded for punching a Botswana player in his last game. The punch was so hard he knocked him out and the Botswanan was stretchered from the field. That was in the AFCON, however, and this weekend’s game was in the World Cup so Yago will not serve a suspension until next year.
We could even be more radical and just continue to play our PSL games alongside the international fixtures. Rugby and cricket manage to do this. The Bafana players would just miss the odd game here and there while they were representing the national side, in the same way that the Springboks miss the Currie Cup and Proteas miss the domestic cricket fixtures. In reality it is never going to happen given the power and influence of the big clubs that supply the best international players, but it would be amusing to watch the interview with Pitso Mosimane when Sundown’s are asked to play without their international stars.
As it stands all we are left with is another weekend with no live game to attend and just more football on TV. At least we had an entertaining game, with a crazy last ten minutes that produced a valuable away point, and a series of useful contributions from various former AjaxCT players. Thulani Hlatshwayo has stepped up to become a reliable captain for the national side. Keagan Dolly and Thulani Serero also made useful contributions, despite the lack of any game time for Serero at Ajax Amsterdam. Of the Capetonians on show it was Eleazar Rodgers who really impressed, after waiting eight years to play for Bafana since his last game in a friendly against Malawi. From the kick-off he linked the attacking play intelligently and his good close control and quick distribution with both head and feet constantly brought the other attackers into play.
After a long and successful spell with Santos, we only saw Rodgers for one season at AjaxCT. His return of 5 goals in 23 games in the 13/14 campaign does not stand out, but as he has later shown he is a better player than those statistics suggest. He played the lone striker role that Nathan Paulse is currently making such a success of, but during his time at AjaxCT he often seemed to be too isolated with support too far away to reach his intelligent knock-downs. On Saturday night he had the support he needed at close quarters from Serero and Dolly and was constantly available to hold the ball and bring the other attacking players into the game. Looking at his success now at domestic and international level, you have to think we did not get the best out of him for whatever reason – build up play too slow, not enough good quality support, attackers playing too deep? He was brought into the side as Khama Billiat was leaving and I suspect he may have had a more successful season had the two players both been present in the same squad. As the PSL finally does return next Saturday we face similar conundrums of how to get the best out of the attacking talent we currently have in the squad. We need a quick answer given that we resume away at Kaizer Chiefs. It is hard not to be a little nervous about our prospects.