By Ilan Herrmann
Seldom do you come across those prodigious, great players that are adept at changing a game with their brilliance.
Today there are Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. Yesteryear, there were George Best, Santoro, Zico and others. The list is not long though because that skill and those talents are rare.
Yet even the greats had to rely on the less startling players who sturdy grit broke down opposition and fed them the ball. These unsung grinders of the game, whose tackling and disruption enable the exciting and flamboyant players to do their magic are often the cog around which the team is built.
Dean Furman is one such player and his strength and metal will be one of the crucial elements Bafana Bafana will look too as they go into the Afcon tournament through June and July.
The Afcon is the African Confederations Football Tournament to determine who reigns as Africa’s best soccer side.
Bafana are in Group D and face a daunting challenge in Morocco and Ivory Coast, with Namibia possibly being the easier of the three games. “It is a tough group, but I don’t think anyone in the squad has any doubt that we can do something here,” said a confident Furman.
South Africa were the only team in their group to go undefeated in the qualifiers with three wins and three draws. “The side has been playing well. We can take a lot of heart from our recent form. Our performances against Nigeria and away against Liberia in very tough circumstances and conditions, shows how far we’ve come. I believe we go into this tournament with good reason to expect we can compete with the best. We don’t have to fear anyone.”
Furman has captained Bafana Bafana numerous times and may very well be given the captains armband again by coach Stuart Baxter. Baxter was Furman’s coach for years at Supersport and has shown his confidence in Furman time and again as a player he can count on.
The tournament is being held in Egypt where the simmering heat is brutal and something the SA players are not accustomed to. For this reason, the team held a training camp in Dubai prior to the Afcon to acclimatise. “Most teams are going to struggle with the conditions, us included. It will likely affect the pace of the game, “says Furman.
Furman is the only Jewish player to ever captain the SA national soccer team and says that while his Jewish identity is clear to all and he is openly proud of it, it does not come into factor in any particular way. “The national team is made up of players with so many backgrounds. The diversity is appreciated by the players, my Jewishness included.”
“It’s disappointing that as one of the great nations on the continents we haven’t been successful in football terms in the recent past and have to last look back at 1996 for any real tangible achievements. We are all aware of that. We want to fix that and are determined to go into this tournament as contenders and not just to make up the numbers.”
Africa have some outstanding teams. The recent u-20 world cup where Mali and Senegal stunned the world with their electrifying pace, strength and skill, demonstrated the depth of talent in African football. South Africa showed early promise, but then lost their way and collapsed. If Bafana could put in a good show at the Afcon it could permeate its way down through the football tributaries in the country and evoke a sense of national pride and identity. This would inspire the way forward towards SA footballing greatness once again.
Will Furman visit the Pyramids his ancestors are said to have built? Furman laughs and says, “Our schedule is tight and we’re going there to do a job. To play and to win. But sure, yeah, if we get a leisure outing I’d love to see the ancient Egyptian pyramids.”