An integral part of the AFCON winning team of 1996, Andre Arendse is well-versed in dealing with pressure on the international stage. The former Bafana Bafana shot stopper enjoyed a professional career of over 500 appearances, and his stoic temperament between the sticks led many to believe that Arendse was not one to share his sentiments.
Now a goalkeeping coach for the national team, Arendse couldn’t help but express his delight in proving the doubters wrong, when an outstandingly brave effort saw Bafana despatch of hosts Egypt in the AFCON Round of 16 clash. Shortly after the final whistle and in the midst of wild celebrations, Andre took to his phone and spoke from the heart, on behalf of the squad.
“It was just emotion” Arendse explains with a calm resolve. “To come up against a team that is so big in Africa and players that are so big in world football, it was all just emotion. Maybe I should have, maybe I shouldn’t have; but emotions just got the best of me”.
Not that this should be seen as a reflective apology though; far from it. Joined by former teammate (and current Player Liaison & Opposition Analyst) Mark Fish, Arendse doubled down on his belief that football is a game of passion and requires the freedom of expression, particularly when celebrating the achievements of the team.
“The players have been phenomenal. We’ve seen the time and effort that they’ve put into it and now we’ve seen what they get out of it. They just deserved it”. Making the victory all the sweeter for the playing squad was their ability to hit back at the criticism often levelled by the South African press and viewing public, something that he readily acknowledges on behalf of the group.
“It’s there, we know it’s there and that’s okay. We must deal with what’s real, and what’s real for the players is our work here (in Egypt). We (the technical team) have to keep them focused, keep them working and get them to play in structures that help us get what we want out of them. That’s what we can effect and that’s what’s important”.
As much as Arendse provides a wealth of knowledge to impart on the squad as a whole, the goalkeeping coach places focus on the glove-men within his unit. And whilst there is no rotational plan between the stick, there is a recognition that some of the big men are comfortable in the air (against strong crosses), whilst others are confident shot stoppers.
When questioned about the build-up to the Nigerian game, Arendse gives a considered response to a potential selection dilemma. “When we approach every game, we like to keep everybody glued to that game. Our build up is centred around training, analysis of the opposition and we’ll give players the opportunities to engage in those sessions. We find the intensity will increase, because every player wants to be a part of the action and make it difficult for us coaches to select a team. With regards to Nigeria, we can look back at our two qualifying games and take a lot of positives out of them. Nigeria know that this is not going to be an easy task, and that’s how it should be”.
This round of the competition also brings the excitement and trepidation of VAR, a concept that the former Fulham stalwart embraces. “Players need to be aware that the small things will not go unnoticed, but we don’t want to put it in their minds (to make them apprehensive). You’ve got to go out and play your game and let VAR decisions take care of themselves. But with a team like Nigeria, who have players who can turn you inside-out, you’ve just got to be aware not to do anything silly”.
Having represented five different PSL teams in a career spanning twenty-three years, its little wonder that Andre Arendse garners the respect and admiration of not only the goalkeepers in the squad, but also outfield players who are brimming with confidence ahead of their quarter-final clash with one of our great continental rivals.
As for his message for the people of South Africa: “You need to know that we appreciate you. We appreciate every bit of support you give us, and we understand when your support sometimes gets negative, because you have a passion for this team. We thrive on that support; we thank you for it and we come to this stage of the competition because of that support”. For a legend who recently enjoyed his 52nd birthday at the team hotel, we hope that the party was the first of many more celebrations to come.