National soccer team coach Stanley Tshosane is one man who has seen it all. Roped in to take charge of the Zebras after the unceremonious departure of Briton Colwyn Rowe in 2008, the former BDF XI coach had to endure the harshest of criticism as the Zebras head coach.
Tshosane critics mainly based their argument on the fact that his club, BDF XI, had to survive relegation playoffs in the season he was appointed national team coach. "How can he be appointed national team coach when he almost saw BDF XI relegated? He failed and he will do the same with the national team," a caller said in one of the national radio call-in sport programme responding to Tshosane's appointment.
Fast forward to June 20011, Tshosane has successfully guided the Zebras to their maiden Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals. His record in the qualifiers: five wins, two draws and no loss. Frustrated supporters left the UB stadium following a 0-0 draw with visiting Malawi. The result had cemented the Zebras' position at the top of the log until the end of the qualifiers, but instead of celebrations, anguished voices are still heard. "Stan o tshwanetse go tsamaya, o ya go re bolaisa di team ko AFCON ha a ka tswella a tshameka jaana (Stan must go now, he is going to embarrass us at AFCON if he continues this kind of play)," said one supporter leaving the stadium last Sunday.
The supporters believe the team qualified on sheer luck, or was on 'autopilot' as some may put it.From the words of the supporters to the atmosphere at all the home games throughout the qualifiers, taking the Zebras to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea has not won the man many supporters. This begs the question: What is he doing wrong that we want him out before the finals? The first thing most Batswana seem not to be satisfied with is the Tshosane's tactics, specifically his defensive approach. Even when the team is winning, the cheering at the stadium does not show. Often characterised by long periods of silence and a very brief period of applause and cheering.
The supporters say they want the so-called 'fluid' kind of football, which they say is not showing in Tshosane's team.
There is probably very little to cheer until at least at the end of the match when the result is in Botswana's favour.The defensive approach leads to the team spending the better part of their matches pressured into their own half, a thing the supporters obviously do not pay at the gates to see. "We have qualified yes, but the way this team plays leaves much to be desired, it is not worth paying to watch them play at all," these are the words of one supporter who identified himself only as Mothusi.
The Zebras have managed to score only one goal in all the games they won, save for a 2-1 victory over Togo at home in September last year. In the process, they conceded only two goals making them to have the best defensive record in the group with Tunisia the most offensive with 12 goals. Botswana has only scored two goals more than fourth and fifth placed Togo and Chad.
Does Botswana have the players to play the offensive and that 'attractive' football that gets the approval of the fans?
The answer to that question may be a 'Yes' the domestic league has such players, especially in the midfield where modern soccer matches are won. But these players
During Rowe's era, the team had started what looked like a flowing, passing game that started from the midfield.Play started from defence. Even the likes of Mompati Thuma and Ndiyapo Letsholathebe who were part of Rowe's team knew they had to pass the ball to the midfield once they dispossessed opponents. Rowe introduced in a young Dirang Moloi and Vincent Phiri, natural ball players in the midfield who did well with the fluid game. One notable game under Rowe's tenure was a 0-0 draw with reigning Africa champions Egypt at the National Stadium in June 2007.
The Zebras matched the Pharaohs for the entire match in front of a packed National Stadium. In that match, there was a link in every department, from defence, midfield and attack. The play was fluid.
The return leg was even more exciting despite Botswana losing 1-0 in a closely contested match in Cairo. But again Rowe was not spared the axe after failing to qualify the team for AFCON. That has since changed. Many who watched the Malawi game saw Thuma 'blasting' any ball that came his away, either off the field or just firing aimlessly upfront. The national team often await a rare moment of counter-attack when the speedy wingers can pick Jerome Ramatlhakwane as a lone striker upfront to finish off, a thing he has done extremely well in the qualifiers, making him one of the top scorers. Tshosane does not have the blessing of world champions Spain, with probably the deadliest midfield combination of Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Xavier Hernandez who often leave people amazed by their play. Instead, he is making the best use of the resources he has at his disposal. With very little achieved in terms of soccer development in Botswana, we cannot expect miracles to happen at the stadium. Like Sport Psychologist Dr. Malete once said, "The Zebras is not that good, we just have some 'sparks of brilliance' in our play." So, Tshosane deserves to be spared criticism.
The debate of good play versus results continues in modern football, which is more to business than pleasure.Direct coaches like Jose Mourinho currently with Real Madrid in Spain continue to be criticised for their kind of play but brings in the results.
Mourinho, often adopting a defensive approach has two UEFA Champions League titles under his belt. Recently in neighbouring South Africa, Orlando Pirates had a record low of supporters' turnout at home games in their most successful season in over a decade. Supporters were apparently dissatisfied with Dutch coach Rudolf Krol for his direct, boring play, at one point calling for his head. At the end of the season the team had won three major trophies and the coach's job remains in the balance.
Tshosane's record in the qualifiers is enough to secure his job to the AFCON finals next year, but whether he can bring the desired results from the continental showpiece, is another matter.
Qualifying for the finals is a huge accomplishment in itself; so it would only be fair for the nation to rally behind the man as he leads the national team to AFCON finals next year.