|ON THE BRINK: Orlando Pirates coach Eric Tinkler|
NEVER accuse me of not backing Steve Komphela, the current Kaizer Chiefs coach. Love the bloke. Good for the game.
I’ve backed “Mr English” for years… I suggested him for Bafana Bafana head coach when Pitso Mosimane was forced out, for Orlando Pirates when Roger De Sa left, then as Kaizer Chiefs coach when Stuart Baxter walked away.
But on Saturday afternoon, after a pretty routine Soweto Derby ended 1-1, Komphela’s outpourings, always easy to understand, verged on the inexplicable.
The former school master from Kroonstad told us: “We can relegate or elevate the PSL. It is our job to elevate. Perhaps it is time to invite international officials to South Africa.”
Essentially, Komphela - one of eleven children growing up in the Free State in the transitional 1980s - is doing what he always does. Seeking attention.
His style, immaculate in dress and voice, demands that we listen to a man who ran his own talk show when he played in Turkey - in Turkish.
Yes, Komphelikated is right. There are times when you look at a game in South Africa and think: it’s too much for this referee. Our officials are neither fit enough nor experienced enough to handle an 80,000 crowd baying for blood.
But this particular episode was curious. Komphela’s chiefs got the rub of the green on Saturday. The disallowed first half goal, a brush of the hand in the penalty area, an obvious advantage not played when Orlando Pirates were through on goal.
It was Eric Tinkler, under far more pressure, who gave the measured response: “Referees are only human. They make mistakes, we have to accept that, even when it affects lives.”
To my sensation-seeking eyes, Komphela appeared to be furious with the referee not because he was poor, but because he hadn’t given the mighty AmaKhosi the help they are now accustomed to.
Pirates are run by a 68-year-old who has dominated South African football for 30 years. Chiefs were created by a footballing legend whose son makes up his own rules. There’s not easy path for referees when these two super-powers come together.
But perhaps, if you can get past Komphela’s call for international referees, there are more obvious solutions to the problems facing South African football.
Both Pirates and Chiefs have now drawn more games than they’ve won this season. Two days before the biggest game of the season, the most prominent Buccaneer Kermit Erasmus went off and signed for Stade Rennes after claiming he was going to see the in-laws in Holland.
Neither club made a real signing during the transfer window - William Twala came from Chippa, but only thanks to a couple of loan rangers who were sent to Port Elizabeth - and in truth the Soweto Derby was a mid-table scramble.
Two poorly run clubs playing average football with a barely-acceptable level of entertainment in front of 80,000 fans. It’s been this way for years. Komphela barely pushed more than one player forward, Tinkler resorted to Rooi Mahamutsa’s long throw-ins as his major weapon.
It just doesn't make any sense. Ask last year's PSL player of the year Tefu Mashamaite or Chiefs top-scorer Mandla Masango, both now exiled in chilly Scandinavia.
Barely six months ago, Baxter led Chiefs to championship at Chiefs which destroyed dozens of long-established records. He left Naturena because Bobby Motaung refused to allow him a say in new signings. Will he now pose a threat to his old club?
At Pirates, Tinkler is still waiting for the “clear-the-air” meeting with Irvin Khoza which was promised after the CAF Confederations Cup final defeat last year. Screamer Tshabalala and Floyd Mbele barely reached for a pen during the transfer window, despite the long-term injury to Oupa Manyisa and the unexpected departure of Erasmus.
Tinkler goes from game to game, expecting the chop. How he does it is beyond me, he looked on the verge of a breakdown after half-time against Maritzburg United but still grabbed a point. But he has to go. We all know that. Will Igesund be in the frame? Is there anybody else?
These are not ordinary football questions. Nowhere else in the world will you find a league where crowd figures are top-secret, players simply disappear in mid-contract and clubs go through three or four coaches in one season.
So let's look at the head of this rotten fish. The truth is, Khoza and Motaung have held too much power for too long in South African football. It creates problems for our national team all the way down to our National First Division, where Santos coach Zeca Marques told me last week: “Neal, the NFD is pre-determined, it’s unbelievable.”
But our football stumbles on. We have analysts who refuse to offer honest opinions for fear of irritating Bobby and the Iron Duck. We have former professionals who no longer appear to offer their thoughts because they dared to be critical.
Komphela can complain about the officials all he wants. The truth is, in a nation famous for match-fixing and the phantom African Diaspora fund, referees are the least of our worries.
When our own Tokyo Sexwale can barely muster a vote from the rest of Africa in his bid for the FIFA presidency, you know the problems run deep.
Still, SAFA president Danny Jordaan’s second job - as mayor of Port Elizabeth - may soon be gone. Perhaps he’ll find time to fix things soon.