To coincide with gsport’s theme of SUPPORT this month, we celebrate a man who is passionate about helping women reach their full potential on the field – Banyana Banyana coach, Augustine Makalakalane.
Makalakalane, a former Bafana Bafana midfielder who also played in Sweden, and has a host of coaching qualifications to his name, is enjoying his eighth month as national women’s team coach.
But when gsport sat down for a chat with him at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria last week, he quickly admitted he was initially skeptical about whether he could coach girls.
“When Fran (Hilton-Smith) approached me, I said “No way, man”. I didn’t think I could coach girls.
"But, after speaking to some colleagues, they convinced me that I was a good coach, and that coaching women was no different from coaching men. And I’ve come to understand that, as a coach, you can coach anywhere in the world.
“The other important thing for me was getting acceptance from the team. When I realised they were happy with my appointment and they could work with me, I felt more comfortable with my position. I also have four sisters, so I’ve had good practice in dealing with women,” he laughs.
Back then the 42-year-old’s hasty appointment back in March created a lot of debate. Many questioned whether he was the right person for the job. But the former Bafana Bafana star hit back at his critics, helping Banyana Banyana qualify for the this month’s African Women’s Championships in Nigeria.
“People always like to criticise, when you lose, it’s a national calamity, and when you win, they’re still not happy. They pick on the strength of opposition, team selection, the coach, everything, but that doesn’t bother me. I am here to do a job and we want to qualify for the World Cup next year.”
Makalakalane is so determined to see women’s soccer turn around, that he spends countless hours doing road shows and unearthing talent around the country.
“I like continuously bringing fringe players into the national setup for two reasons; to create healthy competition, and to ensure that I always have a good supply of players, especially when there are injuries.
“I drive around the country to advise the provinces, because I want us to come to a stage where every province is able to supply me with at least one outstanding player for the national team.
“The more tournaments there are around the country, the more opportunities we get to see our talent pool. I want to develop strong relationships with the provinces; I don’t just want to be seen as the national coach who dictates to them.”
As we chat in HPC gym, he keeps a close eye on his Banyana Banyana charges, as they are put through a rigorous strength and conditioning workout.
“We’ve come a long way in a few short months, and it’s so good to see that they are willing to try new things. If I tell them they need to work on something, they do. You tell a guy his left foot is too weak, he will tell you that he shoots with his right foot.
“We have a lot of feedback sessions, and we discuss various things. We have a good setup, but it’s important for me not to get too close to just one player. I try my best to be fair and honest. And when I can’t help, we have a number of women on the technical team, who can help the girls with personal stuff.”
Makalakalane’s immediate goal is to provide the country with a fit, strong, and confident Banyana Banyana squad for the African Women’s Championships in Nigeria.
“We’ve watched a lot of DVDs which Fran brought back from the FIFA under-20 Women’s World Cup in Russia, and we know we’re going to be up against it. That’s why we are here at the High Performance Centre; to toughen the girls up and give them the best preparation to take on Africa’s top teams.
Aside from the physical preparation, Makalakalane is working on the creativity of the team’s game plan, and is determined to ensure that they’re not a one-trick team.
“We don’t just want to only score from free kicks. I want midfielders, defenders, and strikers to score. So, we’re working on that, and the team realizes that everyone has a job to do to make sure we come out on the winning side.”
While Makalakalane is doing his bit to support Banyana Banyana, he is also receiving support from the right people.
Last month, after Banyana Banyana won the COSAFA Cup, South African Football Association CEO Raymond Hack told gsport he was pleased with Makalakalane, saying it justified bringing in someone of his caliber to take women’s football forward.
The coach has also received praise from his captain, Portia Modise, who describes him as more than just a coach, but a friend, too. So, what is Makalakalane’s wish for women’s soccer in South Africa?
“I want to see us launch a professional league for women. From what I hear, hopefully that will happen next year. And then we will start seeing the women’s game take shape,” he said.
gsport salutes Augustine Makalakalane for his SUPPORT of women’s soccer, and wishes him all the best as he and his team head off to Nigeria, on their mission to book a place in the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China.