A wise and unruffled coach

Today, more than anyone else, Carlos Parreira knows what ‘on-the-field’ technical and tactical challenges will await Bafana as they start their 2010 soccer world cup campaign.

In a very short period of time in working with the team, Parreira has created a unified and structured team that is transparent, disciplined and calm. As part of the process, he took the team out of the country for extended periods to do their training. By taking them out of their familiar contexts, he was able to influence the players more effectively under his watchful eye and away from everyday distractions. This process helped instill an independence and toughness in the players.

His selection of the national squad showed that he is a coach that puts the cohesiveness of the team first before pandering to the needs of any demanding talented individual. The non selection of an unfit, over-weight Benni McCarthy, for example, is a case in point. This is a clear indication that Parreira is aligned to the philosophy of ‘We before I’.

However, his wisdom as a coach, has really emerged over the past couple of days. He seems to have a deep understanding of the ‘off-the-field’ dynamics that can sink a team before the start of a major tournament. Recently, Parreira has had to deal with four major off-the-field issues that can impact on the performance of Bafana on match day. These issues are usually associated with being the host team at a major tournament. In South Africa’s case, these issues have been intensified. In brief, Parreira has had to deal with (a) unrealistic public expectations, (b) public and dignitary distractions, (c) administration interference, and (d) the waiting phase leading up to the opening ceremony and then the opening match. The emotionality of hosting the World Cup soccer tournament on African soil for the first time should not be under-estimated. If not carefully managed, these issues can distract, disrupt and/or drain the energy of the players.

Two days ago, an over-excited, hyped-up television interviewer asked Parreira about his feelings while waiting to start on the ticker tape parade through the streets of Sandton, as part of the ‘Unite for Bafana’ campaign. He stated that he had mixed feelings. In brief, his message was that while he wanted to thank the public for all their support, he had never been involved in a pre-tournament parade, without any results to warrant it. He made it clear that it was only on the field that counted for him and that this was where his team needed to be judged. Of interest, Parreira only allowed a handful of players to be part of the parade. Looking at the players who were on the bus, suggested that he choose the more experienced and calmer players to represent the whole team for the event – what an astute coach! The majority of the team were in the hotel resting and away from the unnecessary hype.

Today is the day that all South Africans and soccer lovers have been waiting for. I awoke this morning to the sound of a vuvuzela in the distance. Vuvuzelas are being blown everywhere. They are no longer being used to only support our national team. Instead, each sound that gets emitted is nothing more than a reflection (albeit a noisy one) of the joy and excitement that all South Africans are feeling.

Vuvuzela celebration, 2010 soccer World Cup

The Bafana team is unbeaten in the 12 warm-up internationals that have been played in their build-up to the tournament. This reflects an excellent preparation phase. The players have started to develop an inner confidence and belief in their performance. In addition, the players have come across as being transparent and realistic in the way they deal with the media. They have not felt threatened to reveal their vulnerabilities.

Carlos Parreira has done a remarkable job so far with Bafana. He and the team do not seem to be under any illusions of grandiose as to the task that lies ahead (which is so refreshing and unusual for a South African sporting team). The soccer World Cup is a huge event and today’s opening match is going to be a very emotional moment. It is going to be a very tough match today – the players need to remain calm, disciplined and totally committed and aligned to the game plan that Parreira has outlined for them. They could not have wished for a more astute leader to have guided them to this point in time.

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