The Tafel Lager Life

by Confidence Musariri Thu, 28 Oct 2021.

The Tafel Lager Brave Warriors lost 7 – 2 on aggregate to a well-oiled Senegal side that finished at the top of Group H in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

It was a brutal reality check, not only for the national team, but for the entire Namibian nation and whoever would stand up to judge the Tafel Lager Brave Warriors from that performance that needs saving, or at least an understanding that David last beat Goliath more than 2000 years ago.

As a feel-good for all the truly Namibian fans who were delighted to see our own sons rubbing shoulders with, Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), Diallo (PSG),  Idriss Gana Gueye (PSG), Ismaila Sarr (Watford), Nampalys Mendy (Leicester City), Cheikhou Kouyaté (Crystal Palace), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) and Bouna Sarr (Bayern Munich), there was always an underlying feeling that it would end in tears for us.

Senegal’s line up had 11 Peter Shaluliles. Here we had a vintage Senegal national team, odds-on favourite to reach the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar 2022.

Remove Mane, Mendy and all those mentioned above, Senegal’s hat-trick hero Famara Diedhiou was the least experienced member of the squad, plying his trade in Turkey after a stint at Bristol City in England. He would be the last player on the team bus and could easily be forgotten at the airport.  Yet his monthly salary can still pay our entire national team from players, coaches to the NFA President.

So, what went wrong against Senegal?  Let’s take you back two months back, the same Tafel Lager Brave Warriors team had beaten Senegal 2 – 1 at COSAFA. Only Shalulile and Hotto, were the new faces in the 7 – 2 losing side. Nine players who started this October, starred at COSAFA, that does not mean our boys went to sleep. On the flip side however, the Teranga Lions squad at the COSAFA tournament in July was their 3rd tier squad. From that COSAFA team, only 20-year-old wingback Alfred Gomis, made it to the October cream. Strike one!

Deon Hotto, Shalulile, Willy Stephanus and Ananias Gebhardt were the four players from the 2017 AFCON qualifying squad that lost 4 – 0 on aggregate to Senegal, thanks to Max Mbaeva’s theatrics that avoided a cricket score line with Ricardo Mannetti in charge. Even then, what went wrong was never on the pitch. Senegal featured seven players among them Mane, Kouyate, Gueye and Koulibaly from the 2015/2016 qualifiers.

I remember well, Gueye had just signed up for Aston Villa from Lille when they played us late in 2015, he was almost the same age as Shalulile, and no one knew about him.

This month, before meeting the Teranga Lions, the Tafel Lager Brave Warriors were undefeated in the qualifiers and still had two more games away, to face Congo-Brazzaville the following month, before a home clash against Togo. And this is when we should have taken stock. For now, painful as it is, let’s coil our tails between our legs.

Not only did they lose, but they also capitulated, producing one of their worst back-to-back performances of the qualifiers so far. But who could blame them? It was Senegal. No complaints.

After the COSAFA tournament, we spoke about the abundance of ruthlessness from our attackers, and how they moved like a unit with a coherent plan. But that was at the COSAFA level.  Gone were the days when we relied on building a squad with COSAFA level players. Senegal’s crème de la crème could actually host a training camp in Europe without any African based players present.

A team like Senegal, did not just rely on Mendy’s excellent shot-stopping skills to win games; they were also counting on Mane, Sarr, Gueye, Kouyate et al to pull a goal of the season’s contenders out of the bag on a regular basis. That is the royalty we were not privileged to have.

There needs to be a clear, coherent and functioning plan on how to develop players to that level, but, at the moment, there appears to be no structure at all. It was beyond NFA, it took a national effort. Isaac Hamata will tell you Shalulile was a grassroots product who at one time did not know which position he was good at.

With the kind of players we have, just like in 2015/16 when we played Senegal, our national team is perennially lacking balance amid a plethora of high-quality attacking options. Then we have Petrus Shitembi and Wangu Gome, now we have Shalulile and Hotto. It’s the usual ‘conundrum’ among a long list of other issues that always rears its ugly head. Even if you hire a coach from Mars, without the right balance in the squad and in the boardroom, we will come crushing down.

Our football in Namibia is biased towards South Africa, attack minded. What our players need to have, is a work ethic of the likes of Marco Verratti, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, and Sadio Mane. World-class players who work like absolute dogs at every game. Our work ethic and football culture has not changed to that. For now, that must be built around Peter Shalulile.

True, football aficionados have purred over the team being built around Shalulile. Shalulile is a rare breed who exploded into the wider football consciousness with a dominant show for two seasons going in South Africa.  At 27, he is no longer the future but the heart and present of the team, and yet, as long as he stays in South Africa, he will only benefit Mamelodi Sundowns and not the Tafel Lager Brave Warriors.

Shalulile and Hotto’s club performance is scintillating. They keep winning everything on the cards in SA. It would be impossible for Namibia to produce two players as good as they are in the near future. There is a need for a strategy to get the Tafel Lager Brave Warriors’ results from them as we plan 2026, when he will be 32. It’s possible.

Unlike the icy and meticulous Hotto, Shalulile has more fire in his game, ploughing into challenges, with a rare striker’s aggression. Hotto is a modern midfielder, with an exceptional work rate. It is no longer enough to be fancy on the ball, modern midfielders must have the lungs too. Hotto has those, while Shalulile will fearlessly give as good as he gets.  But that might only end at club level, if we do not support them with the right structures and proper strategy. We have Elmo Kambindu and Ryan Nyambe ready to become part of that bandwagon.

All of them personify hope and new beginnings while the layered disappointments of the past half decade still cascade down upon our country.  Let them represent the restart that has been false for the past decade.

The challenges, which have been stalking the Tafel Lager Brave Warriors, are perennial, it’s not about who can carry the ball and find the space to feed the forwards, etc.

In the meantime, if we beat Congo-Brazzaville and hold Togo, there is life, there is hope. But today, as we begin to ponder the next Tafel Lager Brave Warriors’ move, we should be thankful that none of our top players are pondering retirement, in fact they have seemingly turned to gold. Shalulile is the best Africa-based player on the continent right now. Somehow, that cutting edge should be used to our advantage. Imagine, in South Africa, when they realised that most of their big names were no longer adding any value to Bafana Bafana. They brought in new players, grassroots players, without big profiles, the Shalulile and Hotto calibre, with the hunger to make a name for themselves and with a different work ethic.

And while their target was the 2026 World Cup, they now sit nestled atop their group with unexpected hopes of reaching Qatar. Fortune favours the BRAVE. Where is our 2026 plan?

Instead, we keep believing players are found in the national team. Time to reinvest in grassroots, set up proper football structures in the regions, even where the premier league is based. Picture Namibian corporates, outside of the usual suspects, sponsoring a mini league in the areas they operate as part of their corporate social responsibility. Picture, Oil Exploration giants sponsoring a mini league of the best talents in the Kavangos and the Zambezi and Mines sponsoring a mini league in Erongo, where all the top four teams from these regions meet in Windhoek for the NFA Cup and the best players are selected for further development, whilst your Finest Lager facilitates the platform, the beautiful game needs to get all hands-on deck and start strategising for 2026. NFA will then share with the public, get buy-in from all the national team coaches and the Minister of Sports.

Why should we wait for sponsorship only when we have won? The Mbo Masilingi method should not be repeated, lessons should be used to entice sponsorships before international competitions.

Let’s build to have 11 Shaluliles and 11 Hottos in the SA premiership before we can talk of Namibians in Europe or the Tafel Lager Brave Warriors at the World Cup.

As always, I write to you in the confidence that we build this beautiful game together and see Namibian Football back on the arches of Regional and Continental Football, we would like to hear from you and we hopefully can crack open Namibia’s Finest Lager and discuss all things football soon, in the meantime, engage with us on our Social Media Platforms.

With Confidence, till next time. Cheers!

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