Time for new Banyana Banyana generation to take over baton

Banyana coach Desiree Ellis tries to console a heartbroken Hildah Magaia after the final whistle against Nigeria on Tuesday. Photo: BackpagePix

Banyana coach Desiree Ellis tries to console a heartbroken Hildah Magaia after the final whistle against Nigeria on Tuesday. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Apr 11, 2024


Comment by Matshelane Mamabolo

She stood by the dugout as she usually does, poker-faced and thus difficult to read as her team huffed and puffed somewhat without a clear purpose on the pitch.

Whereas in the past she would shout some instructions that often effected positive change in the direction of the match, Desiree Ellis just could not get through to her players this time.

And the result was a disappointing goalless draw with Nigeria in a near-empty Loftus Versfeld on a cool Tuesday evening.

It was an outcome that broke a nation’s hearts, Banyana failing to qualify for the forthcoming Olympic Games in Paris courtesy of the aggregate 1-0 defeat by the Super Falcons.

For a national team that had in recent years come to be the fans’ favourites as they generally did well to make it to the major international tournaments, Tuesday’s meek capitulation was particularly heartbreaking.

Of course, defeat is part of the game. What disappoints is when a team loses without so much as a fight.

And though they tried to make a contest of it, Banyana hardly resembled a team that understood what was really at stake.

Beaten 1-0 in Nigeria in the first leg, one expected the reigning African champions to show their mettle against their bitter rivals who are ranked number one on the continent.

But no, an uninformed observer would have been forgiven for thinking that the teams were engaged in an international friendly of no consequence.

Banyana did not press matters hard enough to illustrate there was a ticket to the greatest sporting spectacle at stake.

You know, when a team loses having given their all, having peppered their opponents with attacks and found them impenetrable, as a fan, you leave for home content that your team gave it their all. Not so on Tuesday.

And you wonder why that is?

Well, it could be that this Banyana Banyana team have come to the end of their cycle.

It could well be that it is time for a new generation to take over the baton.

And why not, when the majority of the players in the team have achieved just about all there is that can be reasonably expected of them.

They have participated at the Olympics. They have won the Africa Cup of Nations. They have competed at the World Cup.

And a significant number of them have secured contracts with overseas clubs.

They are accomplished, as it is.

No doubt there will be some who argue that multiple appearances and successes at major events must be driving these women to want more.

The reality, however, is that few sportsmen and women are able to keep competing at the highest level once they have achieved the highest accolades.

After all, there are only so many who can maintain the longevity of a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo.

And methinks the majority of our Banyana players are satiated when it comes to what they can achieve on the international stage with their country.

Ditto for coach Ellis, who has served the country with distinction and taken Banyana to heights hitherto not thought of as possible.

Like her players, she has reached her peak, and cannot possibly go beyond that.

A winner of the African Coach of the Year award, having led her country to continental glory as well as the Olympics and the World Cup, the woman from Salt River in Cape Town has done it all.

No doubt participation at the Olympics would have been hers and most of the players’ swansong.

They have failed to earn themselves that ticket, and should now be sent to pasture, so that Banyana start preparing for the next cycle of major events.

It is the logical thing to do.