Igesund’s selection poser

Bar winning the Chan tournament, ideology is the single biggest hassle Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund has to deal with.

What is your approach towards selection in a competition where there isn’t consensus on whether it should be viewed as a developmental tool or be taken a bit more seriously?

It’s an interesting poser because theoretically, if a tournament is supposed to showcase the strength of a domestic league as well, doesn’t that warrant at least some of the top players playing in it?

Granted, Igesund has been denied access to some of the PSL teams’ resources, but this current campaign certainly has seen him err on the side of the tried and trusted.

And he’s certainly not ashamed to admit it.

“I keep hearing about this 18-year-old and that 19-year-old but that’s their football years, they’ve got other ages as well,” he said.

“I’m quite happy with what I did with my squad. It’s one thing putting in 11 youngsters in one shot but I’ve also picked youngsters. The average age of our team in that friendly against Spain was 24. What more do people want?”

Hierarchy remains at a premium for the 57-year-old.

“We’ve got age-group national teams and a senior national side. This is the senior national side. I’m happy with youngsters I’m currently picking. I won’t be here long enough if I just pick youngsters,” noted Igesund.

There’s no denying that he’s under pressure to deliver on high expectations in this tournament, perhaps forcing him to dip into the experienced, but Igesund also rightly argues that a team needs to illustrate the strength of their domestic product.

“These youngsters in the age groups have not played in the PSL. It’s all good and well playing at Under-19 level for your club, the fact is you still haven’t made your senior side. You can’t just jump from age group level to the national side. It’s a huge jump,” he said.

“Some of the players I’ve picked in the past have even shown that they’re very good PSL players but just can’t make the jump.But over time we’ll find the gems.”

As the example of the promising Thato Mokeke illustrates, striking the balance between junior and senior presences remains key.

As the 23-year-old said: “Some guys have been here for long. They’ve made it so much easier. Guys like Thabo Nthethe, Itumeleng Khune and Bernard Parker have said that I shouldn’t panic, I should just play what I know best and the rest will fall in place.”

Already his improvement between the opener against Mozambique and Mali was noticeable.

First and foremost, professional sport remains about pragmatism – highlighted by Fifa granting Chan A-list status.

“We were 62nd and now we have made steady progress to the 54th spot. It shows how crucial it is to do very well in this tournament, and if we go all the way we might find ourselves even higher than where we are now,” said Igesund.

“The draw for next year’s Afcon is coming. If we are seeded we are going to avoid big guns like it happens in the rest of the world. So every single game we play has repercussions.”

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