Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Did BFA score an own goal by firing Paul?

Paul was sacked less than 48 hours before the Young Zebras’ crucial African Championship qualifier against Zambia. The BFA insists that Paul’s swift sacking was justified as he tarnished the Association’s image and undermined its leadership with his unprecedented outbursts in the media. While Paul’s sacking might have shocked many people, Sunday Standard can reveal that the writing was already on the wall as the Zebras assistant coach was headed for a collision course with his superior, Zebras coach Peter James Butler.

Behind closed doors, Paul and Butler were always at crossroads and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Butler included some Under-23 players in the Zebras line-up ahead of the Cosafa Cup clash with South Africa, scheduled for Moruleng Stadium this afternoon. An incensed Paul argued that he should have been allowed to use the players in the important qualifier against Zambia, while Butler said he had every right to use the players because the Under-23 is a feeder to the Zebras.

While the two coaches should covet each other’s resources, Butler’s timing was wrong, considering that the Under-23 games are of greater importance than the Cosafa tournament, to which most other teams bring their C-squads. By any standards, the Cosafa Cup results will not benefit the Zebras in the CAF/FIFA rankings. Paul confirmed the sacking in an interview with Sunday Standard, but he did not want to comment further. For his part, BFA president, Tebogo Sebego released a statement saying the decision to sack Paul was purely in the interest of protecting the integrity and image of the association.

”It has become apparent that both the Association and Mr Paul have a variance of philosophy on player development. He was engaged on voluntary basis and was discharged following a spate of public statements undermining the association and its leadership,” said Sebego.

His statement clearly paints Paul as a rebellious motor-mouth who was in the habit of bad mouthing the BFA in public. However, the Association should shoulder some of the blame. The tension between Paul and Butler has been playing itself out over the last few weeks. As usual, the BFA executive failed to act immediately. During a press briefing last week, Butler said Paul should stop behaving like a ‘cry baby’ and call other players to replace the ones who will be travelling to South Africa with the Zebras.

“The problem with BFA is that they treat Butler like a godfather. That’s why they let him travel with the players. I want to believe that a compromise could have been reached had BFA acted like a parent,” said a source.

Just in the past week when selecting his squad for the upcoming European Championships, England boss Roy Hodgson wanted to have Under-21 youngsters Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur) and Danny Ings (Burnley) in his squad. But he released them to the Under-21s because he understood that they have important qualifiers coming up. Historical precedence gives credence to Paul’s contention that he is being undermined because he is an indigenous coach. It has become apparent over the years that BFA tends to give more resources and respect to foreigners than local coaches. This is not the first time that a Motswana coach and Briton have clashed over the use of players. Some years back, then Zebras’ coach Colwyn Rowe clashed with Under-23 coach Major David Bright over the use of players. It took the intervention of higher offices to bring the matter to rest. There is no doubt that Paul is a strong gaffer who has the requisite mental strength to overcome challenging situations. Only a few could flourish under such circumstances and whoever steps into Paul’s shoes should know that he inherits an unhappy crop of players who had built a strong bond with Paul. It came as no surprise when they boycotted training on Thursday morning, saying they were not happy about a number of issues. Whatever happens in the two-legged qualifier against Zambia, it should serve as a lesson to the BFA leadership.

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