1 March 2023 – Walter Steenbok (WS) has been at the helm of one of the most highly pressured jobs in South African sport in the last few months and the SAFA Technical Director opens up to www.safa.net about his time in the hot seat.
Q: It has been five months on the job and based on what you have done so far, how much have you managed to get done in that period and what have been the challenges?
WS: In terms of what I have done, the first was to understand the organisation (SAFA) better because my whole life has been club football and scouting. When you come into the Association, you have got to adjust and understand things a little bit better. So that has been the most important thing there. And what I have done, with the help of FIFA, CAF and the Association, was to refine the development plan that is in place and bring in new strategic development plan that really looks at everything. The plan has been presented to the Technical Committee, to the Women’s Football Committee, to the Competitions Committee. It is waiting now to be presented at the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting. The plan then talks about everything, it talks about the organogram that we think will be able to help the Association move forward because this is a football organisation.
So you want to have an organogram that speaks to the Football Association and also that talks to specific areas like Talent Identification. We have already employed two scouts who will be working to help us with the scouting in South Africa and overseas. The two are David Nyathi and Aaron Mokoena.
We have already won three trophies, the two Pan-African schools tournament for U15 and also the COSAFA U17 girls who have also qualified for the AFCON. We also expect the U23s and Bafana Bafana to qualify for AFCON. So we are very much on a positive trajectory.
Q: And your challenges, surely there might have been some challenges.
WS: The challenge has been to beef up the Technical Division…. this division needs to be beefed up. We need a head of women’s, youth football and elite youth football. We also need somebody who will be in charge of grassroots and school football. So these have been some of the main challenges. That has been a huge challenge and also the amount of work has been a challenge. Like I said, club football is a different ball game altogether to this.
Here we have got the High Performance Centre (HPC), we have got the National Teams, you got school football, you have got Coach Education. It is not easy and that has been one of the biggest yet exciting challenges for me. I am getting there in terms of adapting to the amount of work we have here, which is a lot.
Q: A lot of South Africans look towards to your department as the one that they hope will turn things around. They hope it will set us on the right path. Will you say right now, at this point in time, we are slowly moving towards where you would want us to be?
WS: It is going to take time, that is why the optimism from the public needs to be carefully measured. My approach has always been to set up structures wherever I have worked whether at Mamelodi Sundowns or at Kaizer Chiefs etc. You know the structure that we set up at Sundowns in the scouting department, even in the youth development, they still continue to produce results. The structure we set up at Chiefs took the team to the brink of a Premier Soccer League (PSL) title and also took the club to the CAF Champions League final.
My main strength has always been structures and strategy. So the optimism has to be that we are going to turn it around, but starting from the bottom. For example, the U15 Inter-Provincial tournament that we are setting up in July 2023 will then be able to help us create a new talent pipeline in partnership with FIFA and UEFA. We are also trying to bring women’s football on the right pathway. So yes, there needs to be optimism but like I said, the results cannot be immediate. I know that South Africans like to have immediate results but if you check, the plan that was put up by the England FA yielded a lot of results after 5-10 years. Ours is a 6-8 year programme – that is when the results of this process will start to trickle in. We are organising, for example, the player profiling for a South African player. It is already there, we are just refining it. We are also organizing the playing philosophy.
We also want to increase the number of graduates, parallel to the traditional coaching education that we have, so we want to create a SAFA Academy that is going to take a lot of performance analysts, a lot of scouts and a lot of people that understand fitness and and conditioning.
We are going to try to introduce a goal-scoring course. You have seen (Orlando) Pirates have already employed a strikers’ coach. So those are the things that you are going to bring to the table. We are bringing a national youth coaching course also targeting the educators, the youth, but one that is more indigenous, talks to the culture and the philosophy, and to the making of a South African player.
So are a lot of things on the pipeline that are coming because we have to look at it holistically, in trying to refine the product, which is South African football.
Q: My next question is your plans for the year 2023, what is your long-term strategy for the year? What would you hope to achieve this year?
WS: Look, this is a process I have already done with FIFA. The FIFA consultant for COSAFA, Serame Letsoaka, has already asked all Technical Directors in the region for the for their annual plans. The immediate priority for now is Banyana Banyana. The Senior Women’s National Team has to do well. We are beefing up the team. We have brought in the Technical Advisor and a second assist coach, who are both South Africans, both highly qualified, and they will beef up the Technical Team. Banyana has to come out of the group stages at the FIFA World Cup in Australia/New Zealand later this year. This is important for the growth of African women’s football, as we bid for the FIFA World Cup 2027. So Banyana becomes the real main priority for 2023.
Bafana Bafana qualification for the 2024 AFCON in Ivory Coast is also crucial, in the bigger scheme of things. Bafana has to be in the top ten in Africa, leading to the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The u23 Olympic qualifiers and U17 AFCON teams also have to do well in their respective tournaments.
The U15 project is also important because it’s a feeder for the U17 national team in 2025, so we have to be able to select the best players in 2023, who are 2008 and 2009, prepare them in 2024 and be able to go to the World Cup. So it’s a very, very important project.
The other one is Coach Education. I have already spoken about the SAFA Academy but in terms of the Coach Education, we also have to streamline our coach education and deliver the CAF Band A manuals, as process as per the CAF Coaching Conference guidelines.