Ellis thrives in revival of Banyana

Coach always makes players part of the plan

Athenkosi Tsotsi Sports Reporter
Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis says the most important thing for her is first the player and then the football.
Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis says the most important thing for her is first the player and then the football.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

One of the toughest jobs in sports is being the coach of a national team. Your job is a matter of national interest, and with that comes expectations, pressure and criticism.

Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis is one coach who has thrived in her gig as national team trainer. She’s exceeded expectations, winning the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and leading her team to back-to-back qualification for the Fifa Women’s World Cup, and has won multiple individual awards. 

When the pressure was on, she never crumbled and even with her unprecedented success, she’s not been immune to criticism.

When results against top-tier nations don’t come she catches strays, and her tactical approach at times has been questioned. Another criticism that has been doing rounds is that her success with Banyana should be credited to her predecessor Vera Pauw. 

“Unfortunately the job that we’re in, we are open to criticism but I always say talk about the facts and the facts speak for themselves. We consistently try to improve and criticism will always be there,” Ellis told Sowetan this week. 

“There will always be criticism, no matter what. If you win 2-0 they will say you should have won 4-0 or they will say you played a weak team. But we trust the process,” she said. 

Ellis addressed the big elephant around Pauw, saying every coach that had been with Banyana laid the foundation for the next one to carry on the development of the team. 

“We cannot discount the work that Vera Pauw put in and also we cannot discount the work that the coaches before her put in,” said Ellis. 

“Banyana didn’t start when Vera took over or when I took over. There are coaches who have come before. I mean coach Joseph Mkhonza is the first coach who took us to a global event in 2012. People seem to forget that. He led the way.

“It’s like building a house. You lay a foundation and then somebody else comes and puts the bricks on and then somebody else comes. The coach that comes after me is going to do better,” she said. 

A quality that a national team coach has to have in their locker is man management, making those big calls whilst keeping the morale of the team high. 

One of Ellis’s great qualities is her player management skills. She has been able to manage a squad full of big-name players such as Refiloe Jane, Thembi Kgatlana, Jermaine Seoposenwe and made the call to drop skipper Janine van Wyk for the benefit of the team. 

“I’ve always been honest. I’ve always interacted with players and made them part of the plan. The players have to buy in,” said Ellis when asked about her man management skills. 

“We’ve always allowed them to give ideas and do what they want and say what they want to without fear or favour.

“I have that personal relationship with the players. They can come and say ‘Coach Des, can I ask you something’? Not many players will ask the questions that they ask. It’s important to treat players as adults.

“For me, the most important thing is first the player and then the football; the important thing is the well-being of the player and making sure that they’re okay,” she said.

Ellis’s troops are in Group G of the world cup along with  Sweden, Italy and Argentina. The pressure to put together a good showing will be on Banyana, and how Ellis manages that will be interesting to see.

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