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If 'shape up or ship out' were a person…

There is a new sheriff at the Bafana quarters and fear looms for underperforming players such as captain Thulani Hlatshwayo. Is Hugo Broos already writing Tyson's national team obituary?
Thu, Jun 10, 2021

Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo during a presser in November 2020. PHOTO: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

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It's exactly four years since Thulani Hlatshwayo was named Bafana Bafana captain, but this is the first time his future with the national team is in serious doubt. With a new broom sweeping, it looks as though 'Tyson' is going to be one of several high-profile players to bite the dust.

Hugo Broos is doing the scrubbing.

The Belgian, appointed Bafana coach a month ago after a drawn-out process to hire Molefi Ntseki's successor, immediately dropped a hint in his first press conference that the over-30s from the perennial underachievers were in trouble.

Hlatshwayo is 31 and won't lead the national team out at Orlando Stadium on Thursday night when they host Uganda in a friendly match.

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Very few thought Broos was targeting the skipper, but the idea wasn't ruled out completely by those who've watched Hlatshwayo in his debut season at Orlando Pirates.

He wears the armband there too, more often than he thought he would, given club captain Happy Jele is now in the twilight of his career. With his game time being managed, 'Tyson' has been holding the fort.

But he has struggled to fit in and has needed protecting from his club coach Josef Zinnbauer, who was quizzed about the defender's costly mistakes and whether they could explain the Buccaneers' 4-1 mauling by Mamelodi Sundowns in the Nedbank Cup and 3-0 thumping by the same outfit two weeks later.

Those were the most notable slip-ups of the campaign, there were more.

Of course Zinnbauer jumped to his player's defence, though there is damning evidence that Hlatshwayo was no scapegoat. He was the chief culprit.

Broos must have seen the highlight reels and they made for very grim viewing, so Hlatshwayo's omission was no shock and it could spell the end.

'Tyson' has been the mainstay of the Bafana squad going back a few years before Stuart Baxter had, to the player's surprise, confirmed him permanent captain to end speculation over who would wear the armband when the national team is in action.

Shakes Mashaba, Baxter's predecessor, did not believe in the idea of having someone assigned as the skipper. He insisted on this bizarre notion that anyone selected in the squad was capable of leading and played hide and seek with the captaincy.

But his successor didn't waste time giving Hlatshwayo the responsibility in 2017, as he embodied most of the qualities needed: heart, character and experience.

While that's not been lost since his move to the Buccaneers, the hard tackling centreback has not been consistent at all.

If first impressions really do last, then his maiden season with the Soweto giants has done his ability a disservice. Perhaps it's the pressure of stepping up a level – Bidvest Wits and Pirates are chalk and cheese, to a degree.

The sad part about Hlatshwayo's loss of form is that it could lead to his premature Bafana exit because national team players usually don't retire – their obituaries at that level are written when they stop getting picked.

A Just Watch caricature of Thulani Hlatshwayo by Carlos Amato

Broos has promised to rebuild.

In fact, the ancient coach (he's 69) has dared to tell South Africa Bafana may not make it to next year's World Cup in Qatar after failing to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

His priority is to start afresh, Broos said.

And sadly, Hlatshwayo appears the first big casualty.

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