Sunday, October 25, 2009

Parreira, South Africa: Tough Job

Wow. Rough crowd.

Carlos Alberto Parreira of Brazil is back as coach of the national team for 2010 World Cup host South Africa, and it seems fair to suggest he is not being hailed as a conquering hero.

More like a prodigal son ... whose family hasn't forgiven him for leaving.

Parreira was named to coach South Africa on Friday, replacing countryman Joel Santana, who had overseen a Bafana Bafana side that had lost eight of nine matches.

In a lengthy story in my favorite Johannesburg newspaper, the Sunday Times, Parreira already is deflecting criticism. Much of having to do with his first stint coaching the national team, for 15 months, into last year.

It's not as if Parreira was disgusted by South Africa or the players. He left after 15 months (when he was supposed to stay through 2010) because his wife of 39 years had a double mastectomy. Which seems like quite a legitimate reason to cross back over the Atlantic, does it not?

The Sunday Times also suggested Parreira's detractors believe he is coming back merely for the money. Well, yes, coaches do expect to get paid.

The point being, he seems to return to a country where antipathy to him already is high.

To be sure, he made a misstep or two. He compared the preparations for 2010 to "going to war", which is something only someone from a country that hasn't actually been to war for a very long time might say. (And when was Brazil's last war? The War of the Triple Alliance, 1864-70?)

But, gee, this looks like a tough crowd, in the South Africa market.

From the perspective of an outsider, South Africa doesn't seem quite ready for a home-grown coach, not when its world ranking has fallen to No. 85 (just behind Mozambique, just ahead of Haiti) -- meaning it almost certainly will be the lowest-ranked team to play in the World Cup. (Unless New Zealand gets in and South Africa slips past it.)

Someone who has put together successful World Cup campaigns in the past (Parreira led Brazil to the 1994 World Cup championship) seems important to the South Africa cause. Find an astute judge of talent, get the team organized, give it some confidence, turn it loose in front of the home fans ... and it should be competitive.

But only if Parreira is given a fair chance to succeed.
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