New South Africa coach Gordon Igesund has achieved the reputation of a miracle worker domestically, and the 56-year-old has been tasked with performing just such a turnaround with Bafana Bafana.
The former striker has coached four different clubs to the domestic league title and most recently he not only saved Moroko Swallows from relegation after taking over mid-season, but the next year he led them to within two points of winning the league.
The Durban-born Igesund spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the challenges and opportunities of his new position.
FIFA.com: What does it mean to you to be named coach of South Africa?
Gordon Igesund: Obviously I feel very honoured, proud and privileged to be able to coach my national team. Any national team is a national asset and to be given the opportunity of managing a national asset is simply a privilege.
Where do you see South African football and the national team currently and where would you like to go in your tenure?
For various reasons the national team is not where it should be. I have no hesitation in saying that South Africa should be ranked in the top four, five in Africa and probably in the top 20 of the world. One of the main reasons why we are not there is that we have had too many coaches over a short period. For instance, when [Carlos] Alberto Parreira was hired, he introduced a style of play that is not suitable for a team like Bafana Bafana. It might be suitable for Brazil, where they have the likes of Roberto Carlos, but we need to play the type of football for which we have the players.
These coaches also had an influence on development in the country as they wanted all national teams to play a similar style, but when a new coach then came, all of that changed again. Of course development is very important. What I am hoping to introduce is that we need to identify our style of play, our philosophy and then stick to it. I will be introducing an attacking style of play with wingers and we will play with flair. That is our strength and if we are successful, then we should stick with that. If a new coach then comes, he should be told that that is our style of play. Spain, for instance, does that. They have a style that is easy to identify and a new coach does not come and suddenly change everything.
What are your expectations for the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, which South Africa is hosting?
I have been given a mandate to take the team to the semi-final. On the one hand, that is very difficult, but I also think it is very achievable. We are playing at home and we should have the goal of winning it. At the moment Bafana Bafana players do not believe in their own capabilities. There has been a lot of negative things said about them and that has to change. If a coach says that he needs a striker to score goals, but there are none, it will demoralise the players. He will not get the best out of the players that he has at his disposal. I am hoping that I will be able to work with them much longer ahead of the Nations Cup and then we can go far. I think it is a realistic goal to say we want to win the competition. The whole of South Africa will be behind us and if you have 60,000 behind you, you have to play well. One of my main aims as national team coach is that I want to ensure that all South Africans regard the team as their own.
What are your thoughts about 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying Group A, where Bafana Bafana are currently behind Ethiopia and the Central African Republic?
We are in a disappointing situation. Having played Botswana and Ethiopia, we should have had at least four points, if not six, but we only have two. I believe that we need 12 points to go through to the final round and realistically we can still achieve that. We need to beat Botswana and Ethiopia and then beat the Central African Republic at home and secure at least a draw away. I think the CAR are the dark horses. They already have the points on the board and have knocked Egypt out in the Nations Cup qualifiers, which will have given them a huge boost. In the final round it is the luck of the draw as you could face a team like Ghana or Nigeria, or a much weaker team.
What are the current strengths and weaknesses of the current Bafana team and South African football generally?
I think there are a lot more positives than negatives in South African football in general, but with the national team it is the other way around. The domestic league is very strong. Manchester United needed a last gasp goal to draw with Ajax Cape Town on the weekend and even players from Europe are interested in playing in South Africa. But then Bafana Bafana have not managed to win their last nine competitive matches. We need to convert our domestic strength into the national team.
You have managed a lot of teams in the South African Premier League – how important is that familiarity with the local league?
South Africa is a very complex place. We have many different cultures, and coaches need to understand that. It is not always something that foreigners pick up. For instance, in some cultures in South Africa, people bow their head when they are spoken to. A local coach will understand that that is being humble and showing respect, whereas a foreigner might think it is disrespectful.