After several years in the shadows, Pitso Mosimane has finally stepped into the spotlight after being promoted to the role of South Africa’s head coach. However, for all his delight at graduating from the position of assistant, Bafana Bafana’s new supremo is the first to recognise the benefits gained from four years under two vastly experienced Brazilians.
The 43-year-old was, as expected, confirmed as Carlos Alberto Parreira’s successor last week, this as the FIFA World Cup hosts attempt to look beyond their successful hosting of the 2010 finals to a new era for both the national team and the domestic game as a whole. Mosimane served as assistant to Parreira during the recent showpiece and also worked under Joel Santana, as well as boasting experience of seven games in charge in a caretaker capacity in 2006.
The former SuperSport coach’s appointment is designed to ensure a seamless transition, with South Africa hoping that they will be able to build on a morale-boosting period of results over recent months that culminated in an unprecedented surge of nationalistic fervour and sentiment at the FIFA World Cup. Bafana Bafana had been in the doldrums for several years until Parreira's return, and although they did not get past the first round at the FIFA World Cup, they did go on a 13-game unbeaten run in the build-up to the tournament and then beat their highest-ranked opponent to date in a 2-1 win over France in Parreira’s final game.
With such evident progress having been made, it is understandable – and indeed sensible - that Mosimane should be found preaching evolution over revolution. He said: “I want the country to know I have not arrived to throw everything upside down or out of the window. I will listen carefully and communicate effectively.”
Anxious to avoid changing too much, too soon, the new Bafana Bafana coach is nonetheless very much his own man, and he made it clear that he will not shy away from being tough and ruthless in taking the team forward. “I will not hesitate to make relevant changes where necessary in the interests of the team,” he said. “This job is about taking tough decisions that may not be popular in certain instances, but I will not hesitate to make such decisions.”
Keen to learn the lessons dealt out by the FIFA World Cup, Mosimane used the example of the champions to show the value in staying true to a philosophy even after a major setback. “A defeat is not a disaster,” he said. “Spain lost their first game and won the Cup by showing that technique and tactical organisation is imperative.”
Closer to home, he made a plea for unity to be maintained between all elements of the South African football family, saying: “The Confederations Cup and the World Cup have shown us there has to be continued co-operation and compromise for the sake of the country.”
The Mosimane era heralds a new chapter for Bafana Bafana as they seek to qualify for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations after missing out on the last tournament in Angola. South Africa share a qualifying group with defending champions Egypt but start with games against Niger and Sierra Leone that, on paper, they should negotiate comfortably.
The Pharaohs remains the side most likely to stand between Bafana Bafana and a place at the 2012 finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, but Mosimane is undaunted. “You have to beat them to show who you are,” he said of the impending match-up with the reigning champions. “We have to box smart. When you are up against someone with a strong punch, you don’t fight toe to toe.”
Yet before Egypt can be tackled, Mosimane will first need to face another African giant, Ghana, in his debut as coach in a friendly at Johannesburg’s Soccer City on 11 August. The new man clearly relishes the prospect of a tough start to his tenure. “You can’t run away from these games. The bigger, the better,” he insisted. “We must try as much as we can to arrange matches against big teams so that get a true measure of our team.”