Owen da Gama has assembled a highly talented team to represent South Africa at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil. The national under-23 men’s team is not only talented, but well balanced in terms of defensive and offensive players.
The team’s work ethic and individual brilliance in the qualification rounds propelled them to this highest level of youth football.
This delicate balance by Da Gama has a lot of similarities with the Portugal side that recently won the Uefa championship under the astute guidance of coach Fernando Santos; and this bring me to lessons that Da Gama can draw from the Portuguese tactician.
South Africa, who was drawn in Group A alongside hosts Brazil, Denmark and Iraq, held off hosts Brazil yesterday with a 0-0 draw.
But was this Da Gama’s “Rio 2016 Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)”?
“The term ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. A BHAG encourages companies to define visionary goals that are more strategic and emotionally compelling. Many businesses set goals that describe what they hope to accomplish over the coming days, months or years. These goals help align employees of the business to work together more effectively.”
Is the team’s BHAG to reach the Olympic quarterfinals or win the prestigious gold to join their counterparts Cameroon and two-time winners Nigeria in the continent’s list of champions.
“The authors claim that a company may have more than one BHAG; there may be one over-reaching BHAG and other shorter term BHAGs”, so Da Gama has a licence to have more than one BHAG.
I had an opportunity to work with Da Gama at Silver Stars FC which was later renamed Platinum Stars.
During that period I observed the man in action and admired his man management skills, his attention to detail in match preparations and his decisiveness.
These leadership traits define coach Santos as well.
Portugal were not favourites to win the tournament despite having quality players like Ronaldo, Pepe and Nani; South Africa is unlikely to be favourites considering that we don’t have international superstars in the mode of Brazil’s Neymar, Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel, Colombia’s Teo Gutierre and Germany’s Matthias Ginter.
South Africa has a coach with the best players at his disposal. Da Gama must step up to the plate and dig deep in his inner soul to unleash the astute tactician that I know, the leader and manager I closely scrutinised in his planning, implementation and execution of the strategy that won him the Telkom Cup with Platinum stars back in 2006.
Coach Santos has used all his infield players except goalkeepers in the tournament, a classic case of rallying players behind a vision or a BHAG and deploying appropriate resources at the right time. Santos dealt decisively with Ronaldo’s injury in the final in pursuit of the team’s BHAG, and introducing Eder for the very first time in the tournament during extra time was a demonstration of trust and believe in his players. Eder rewarded his boss with a historic winning goal.
I was reminded of how Da Gama planned meticulously for all the opponents in the Telkom Cup, and like Santos, in the final against Ajax Cape Town, he introduced Fadlu Davids (current Maritzburg United assistant coach) in the starting line-up for the very first time in months, Davids’ role was an element of surprise informed by a thorough analysis of opponents, he went on to terrorise the Ajax’s defence and resulted with Simba Marumo netting three goals.
South African Players can rise to the occasion when immersed in the playing philosophy. Coach Da Gama understands the South African culture and he’s fluent in Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans and English, plus Portuguese. Coach Santos on the other hand, also speaks Greek and was greatly appreciated by the Greeks for thanking them in their own language after winning the Euro.
Da Gama and the team have done well to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and to hold off the Brazilians. I hope just being in Rio is not the team’s ultimate BHAG.
This piece first appeared on the SAFCA Facebook page