Stepping out of the shadows of Carlos Alberto Parreira was never going to be an easy task for Pitso Mosimane, but after six months in the job South Africa’s coach has proven to be very much his own man. The passionate and thoughtful 46-year-old is a former international himself, having made his Bafana Bafana debut in 1993. He also spent several years as coach for SuperSport United, who won their first silverware under his tutelage, and in 2007 he was interim national team coach until the appointment of Parreira.
He then worked as assistant to the FIFA World Cup™ winner, as well as with his replacement, fellow Brazilian Joel Santana. It has provided a rich education for Mosimane, whose immediate aim now is to qualify South Africa for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals, to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. FIFA.com spoke to Mosimane about life as South African coach in the wake of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and his ambitions and targets for the country’s top footballing side.
FIFA.com: Is this really the dream job you always hoped it would be?
Pitso Mosimane: It’s a dream profile-wise, because you are coach of the country. It’s a dream to say that you’ve reached the top, that it’s the best job you can have as a South African. You want to be among the top. You get to mix with top coaches, top personalities, top personnel. It’s a job that has a lot of perks and it leaves you with a feeling that you are among the elite coaches. That’s the positive side. But it has its challenges... I’d rather use that as a word than ‘negative’. The challenges are accountability, responsibility, man-management of the players and your bosses; dealing with hierarchy; relationships with the media; how people perceive you; working relations with other coaches. You are trying to make everyone happy.
But you go into the job knowing the pitfalls and the perks, right?
For sure, you know what you are going to be faced with, but even when you know it is going to be difficult, it’s a temptation you cannot resist. Often, it’s a no-win job. It’s a good job but it can be thankless. It is a seven-day-a-week job, and there is little time for anything else.
Do you feel that after six months, your job hasn’t really started yet because the first real test for you is still to come, against Egypt in March?
It hasn’t started yet. These first six months have felt to me like an introduction phase. But the sure part about football is that you know that if you don’t qualify for the next tournament, you are almost out. That’s the sad part about South African football, in that we don’t have realistic expectations. We don’t have the right programmes in place, we don’t have a thorough infrastructure, and yet people believe we should be up there achieving what has taken countries like Spain and Holland decades to do.
How tough is it to take over the job of a man with a massive international reputation like Carlos Alberto Parreira?
Look, with Parreira, there are two things: life with him and life after him. He was a teacher and an educator. Parreira has left me with great knowledge, but I’ve put my own ideas in place since he’s gone. I’ve put more pace and tempo into the style of the team, whereas Parreira liked to build-up slowly during the game. I believe in two quick strikers forcing the opposing centre backs to really work.
Do you feel empowered after the time you had spent working with Parreira?
I had been coach of a local club for seven years, and I played the same teams season after season. You do reach a ceiling. I’m young, I love challenges, tactics, I love all the innovations and the new things in football. It was a thrill to learn from him. I feel now I’m adding to the good background he gave me.
In some ways this era of yours now is not as exciting as that just passed, given the World Cup is gone and now the focus is on the continent earlier than the globe.
Oh yes, and I’m very cognisant of that. Hence, I’ve changed the focus. We’ve had proposals to play teams from all around the world, but now we must focus on Africa. I’ve got a vision. My major focus now is the next Nations Cup. Then we have the 2013 edition and then the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. For the next three and a half years it’s Africa, so I must focus on Africa. Why study biology when you are going to write a geography exam? There is no need now to chase international opponents. People might want us to play the big profile teams but we need to get our priorities right. It is a thrill to coach now in the sense that we are playing many teams that are closed books and the challenge is to prepare properly for them.
The top priority is to qualify for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations?
I think South Africa can do well at the tournament, but the problem is to qualify. The qualifying groups are tough. There is no free lunch, and as an unseeded side, we always had the possibility of a tough team up against us. I accept that. We should write history now. No one has a free passage to the finals. And we must learn to overcome. I think that on the day, and if the team is playing to its full potential, we are capable of winning [the Nations Cup]. Why not?