It’s been 20 years since the Class of ’96 did the unthinkable and claimed the Africa Cup of Nations trophy.
Those two Mark Williams goals in the space of two minutes against Tunisia in front of 80 000 fans brought the house down. The image of Neil Tovey hoisting the cup and then president Nelson Mandela beaming with his hands in the air, like a prizefighter celebrating a knockout win, has lived long in the memory.
For lovers of the beautiful game it was the proudest moment in Bafana Bafana’s history. Sadly though, the squads that have followed have not been able to replicate those special times. Some might tell you that instead of using this story as a catalyst for future success the opposite has happened and there’s been a decline. There was outcry on social media this week that those players who ensured the successful campaign were not honoured on the 20th anniversary of their finest hour in international football. Did they deserve a get-together and celebration of their feat? Probably.
But I’d much rather they had been called into the boardroom at Safa House and asked for their expertise when it comes to assembling a team that is capable of not only taking on the big guns in African football and winning, but one that can shine on the world stage. The fact that only a handful of players have found their way into coaching jobs says it all really. It could be argued that not everyone is cut out for a managerial role and that some players may have opted not to further their ambitions along that career path, but in this day and age, where analysts and consultants are the norm, it may not hurt to pick their brains. After all they’ve been there, done that, got the shirt and the trophy too.
Perhaps those in the ivory towers are too proud to admit that they have been unable to tap into the potential that existed in 1996 and instead of accelerating the momentum of that triumph and catapulting Bafana Bafana into the upper echelon of African football they have allowed things to stagnate. One has to ask what it will take to try and get anywhere near those heights again. The current situation doesn’t inspire much confidence.
That Afcon triumph was South African football’s greatest hour. But since then the clock has been stuck.