With just eight weeks until the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the pressure is mounting on Carlos Alberto Parreira, the man who has been tasked with moulding one of the host nation's most prized assets: the country’s national football team. It will be Bafana Bafana's biggest moment in their history, and they couldn't have a more experienced coach at their helm.
Parreira’s worries spread further than just preparing the team for the field of play. He has to manage expectations within South Africa on the team’s performance during the the finals. Top of his priority list is to get the team beyond their opening group and into the knockout rounds, and though he looks calm when talking to FIFA.com he compares that task to "climbing Mount Everest." South Africa will open their FIFA World Cup campaign against Mexico in front of a packed Soccer City in Johannesburg on 11 June. They will then face the rest of Group A: Uruguay and France.
When he joined South Africa on his second stint as a coach following the "amicable" departure of his countryman, Joel Santana, Parreira has had to contend with a lot of things, one of them being a team in need of purpose, confidence and composure. He inherited a side that had lost eight games on a trot and had been troubled by both injuries and self-doubt. Injuries you can heal, but self-doubt, as one proverb suggests, "might be chronic."
This is a process - it’s like building a house. You cannot think about putting furniture inside when there is no roof. You have to do things step by step. It’s a process that involves patience and skill.
Parreira, who will be coaching in his sixth FIFA World Cup, sits with FIFA.com to talk about the training camp his team just held in Brazil, the pending camp in Germany and the build-up to the big event. He remains optimistic, but time is running short. Surely he knows that there can be no better stage for the USA 1994 winner to showcase his skills and cement his status as legendary among South Africans to make an impact this summer.
FIFA.com: You have less than two months left prepare for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Are you satisfied with your preparations so far?
Parreira: I cannot say I’m satisfied because there is always room for improvement and we constantly look for those areas. What I can say is that everything has been going according to plan. I have assembled a squad of locally based players for our camps, and this has yielded positive results. Of course, from the negative side, I would have loved to have the overseas-based players in our team. Unfortunately, they have not been released by their clubs and there is nothing I can do about that. I have to work with what I have.
The most important thing is to identify a group of players from this local squad, and when the overseas-based players are available blend the two group together. You see, this is a process - it’s like building a house. You cannot think about putting furniture inside when there is no roof. You have to do things step by step. It’s a process that involves patience and skill.
You talk about South Africa's overseas-based players being unavailable - are you concerned that some of them are not playing regularly at their teams?
That will always be a concern. It will make my job much easier if they were playing regularly. But I guess there isn’t much I can do. We have to learn to work with what we have. For the World Cup, you need fit players. For example, (Steven) Pienaar is no problem, he has been outstanding in England, he doesn’t need me to work on his match fitness, as he plays regularly. The same can be said about Tsepo Masilela who plays regular football. We need more players like Pienaar in our team.
South Africa’s star striker, Benni McCarthy has been struggling with injuries this season in England. Do you think you can get him ready for the World Cup?
Benni is very important to South Africa. He is a quality striker who is a natural finisher. His track record speaks for itself. I have had some chats with Benni, he knows what I expect from him. For the World Cup, we need a fit and focused Benni. He is an asset to South African football, and we cannot ignore him. He needs to play though, he needs to be sharp for the tournament. I have always said that I rate him very highly. He is the best finisher in South Africa.
A lot of people will say we won’t make it, but we don’t have to listen to everyone who has an opinion. The most important thing is to concentrate on our priority, and that is to go beyond the group stages. We believe we can do this.
A lot was said about Teko Modise before the Confederations Cup last year, but he faded. What do you think was the reason for this. And, what have you done to help him?
Teko needs to prove himself at the highest level more. He has not played too many international games at this level. He started with me in the national team [during Parreira’s first tenure]. I like Teko a lot, he is a very good player, and I hope he will be in good shape for the World Cup. He has been working a lot lately.
The young striker, Kermit Erasmus has been put out there as a possible replacement for Benni McCarthy. What’s your take on him?
Kermit is young. How can people ask a young boy, who hasn’t played top international matches to be a solution for the national team? To me, that is unfair. How many games has he played for South Africa? The problem is that when people make statements, they don’t rationalise, they don’t look at the whole picture. We like the boy, we think he has a lot of potential. But he is still too young. I think it’s unfair to put him under any pressure. Let him grow. He needs experience first.
Playing at home, you will have 46 million voices behind the team. That on its own is pressure. How will you handle that?
First of all, I think the boys know what they have to do. It’s difficult enough to play as hosts at the FIFA World Cup, we don’t need to put them under more stress by reminding them about that every day. They know that they have a job to do. I said it that it won’t be easy, but we have to do well in this competition, we need to change our mindset and believe. A lot of people will say we won’t make it, but we don’t have to listen to everyone who has an opinion. The most important thing is to concentrate on our priority, and that is to go beyond the group stages. We believe we can do this.
Do you think this will be your last World Cup?
[Laughs] Do you think this will be your last interview? [Laughs louder]. You will have to ask me that question in July.