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SIHLANGU NOW NEED FOREIGN COACH

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The Sihlangu technical bench, led by Dominic Kunene, is again under the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

Headlining the list of concerns against the coach is the continued snub of Mbabane Swallows marksman and 2022/23 MTN Premier League top goalscorer Felix Badenhorst. Based on the coach’s reaction during a press conference when the squad was announced in the past week, the seasoned Badenhorst still needed to prove himself more before he could get the nod.

qualifier

During the media briefing, the squad to do duty against Togo next month in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier was announced and there was no place for players like Felix, Justice Figuareido and Mthunzi ‘Xavi’ Mkhontfo, among others. “I have had a discussion with Felix not to make us enemies with the media and I told him to score goals against the teams that were competing in the recently-ended MTN Premier League. In the second round, we have noticed that he has not been scoring goals like we saw in the first round and we ask that he continues to score the goals so that we can get the assurance that he can also bang the goals in the national team. He is a good player that I have worked with before and there is no beef between us,” the coach was quoted saying.

The above excuse (not explanation) by the coach is hereby dismissed. For starters, Felix is not a natural striker and his selection for the national team cannot be based on the number of goals he has scored. Here we are talking about an on-form player, whose predatory instincts still make him a player for the big stage. While the temptation to solely blame the coach for the questionable selection is high, it is critical to focus on the big picture. Obviously, there is no denying that the Felix incident paints an unwanted picture of the coach. Is it still necessary to keep on board a coach who has lost the confidence of the nation? Does the coach have a final say on who gets the nod? These are some questions that forever remain unanswered.

In March’s back-to-back qualifying fixtures against Cape Verde, the player was not selected and Sihlangu drew 0-0 and lost 0-1. In fact, Sihlangu are yet to score a goal this year in all competitions. The nation’s concerns are genuine if the players selected ahead of Felix do not come to the party. There is no denying that the selection has brought question marks about the technical bench’s capability to continue leading Eswatini’s flagship football team.

scrutiny

With every move of the coach now under scrutiny, it is high time Kunene’s employers, the Eswatini Football Association, consider the option of hiring a foreign coach. On June 8, 2008, Sihlangu under  South Africa’s Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba achieved their first win in a World Cup qualifier since 1992, beating 2006 World Cup finalists Togo 2–1 at the Somhlolo National Stadium. Siza ‘King Pele’ Dlamini and Coleen Salelwako were on target for the nation’s pride. Most national teams try to employ a citizen coach instead of a foreigner, because of the feeling that they somehow have more incentive for the team to perform better. Perhaps one way in which being a foreigner could be an advantage is this: you arrive with a clean slate and no perceptions about any factions you might favour or biases you might have.

Experts say for countries not among football’s traditional superpowers, having a foreign coach appears to lead to some joy. Before the last World Cup, for instance, at least 37 different teams achieved their best-ever finishes in the tournament with a foreigner in charge. That includes 11 teams who have only ever been to one World Cup, but for most of those nations – your Iraqs, your Dutch East Indies, your Jamaicas – that still represents a significant achievement.

performance

Ghana’s best performance came in 2010. It halted by the hand of Luis Suarez, but guided by Milovan Rajevac, another Serbian. Of the many things a foreign coach might have to deal with that a native would not, the language is most obvious. Sometimes these coaches come from a country that shares a common tongue but often interpreters have to be leaned on. At the end, there is no neat answer to the question on whether countries should be coached by a citizen coach or foreigner. Some nations will not countenance a foreign coach, some seemingly cannot do without one. But for Eswatini, it would not be a bad call now if the confidence of the nation on the technical bench was to be restored.

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