Mark Fish: Qualifying For The World Cup Was The Highlight Of My Footballing Career

Mark Fish
Bafana Bafana legend, Mark Fish, who was part of the first South African group of players to qualify for a FIFA World Cup tournament, took his time to chat with Soccer Betting News’ Jesse Nagel about the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, why SAFA is the reason for South Africa not qualifying, while also giving us the team he would like to win the tournament taking place in Russia.




Jesse Nagel: Hi Mark, firstly, thanks for taking the time out to chat to us.

Mark Fish: Not a problem at all, Jesse.

JN: So, you were part of the first South African group of players that qualified for a FIFA World Cup tournament back in 1998. What was that experience like?

MF: Well, when you look back, it becomes a pinnacle of anyone's football career. You can play in the African Champions League, you can play in African Cup of Nations, but to play in the World Cup is the biggest stage that any player could play, and once we had qualified, knowing the talented players around me and with a phenomenal coach that we had, it was arguably the highlight of my footballing career, knowing that we travelled into Africa, we did what we needed to do, and on the day, when we needed to beat the DR Congo to qualify, we went on with a fantastic goal, which I still think is a miskick, I always joke with Phil Masinga about it, but a fantastic goal, nonetheless. I remember vividly how Clive Barker ran around the field like an aeroplane. Those moments you cherish and you hold onto, it's certainly something that I hold dearly and fondly to my heart.

JN: Back then, there were quite a few overseas-based players in the national team, you get Lucas Radebe, Shaun Bartlett, Quinton Fortune, yourself as well. Now, players go abroad and things don't necessarily work out. Why do you think that is the case now in comparison to back then?

MF: Well, football has changed. We needed to go abroad to make a living, you couldn't make a living back then. Now, the players can make a living and it's a lot easier to stay at home than go abroad. I think sometimes players go abroad with agents telling them that they're going to greener pastures, but it's not always the case. It's a little bit harder with more commitment needed. Excuse the pun, but here where you may be a big fish in a small pond, you would be a small fish in a big pond once you get there. You got so many more challenges and I don't want to say it's their character, because I don't know players who go and come back for whatever reasons. I just think we had different types of characters as footballers back then, who wanted to succeed. Look, like I said, we needed to go abroad to make a living and when you need to go and do that, you go abroad and you face the challenges head on, knowing that if you come back, you can't really make a living. The character of a player then was a lot different to what it is now, maybe players are disillusioned by when times get tough, it's much easier to just come back home.

JN: So, with the 2018 World Cup just around the corner, why do you think South Africa are not going to Russia?

MF: Well we not going to Russia, first of all, because of our federation. People keep saying we haven't qualified for a World Cup since 2010, although that doesn't count. So we haven't qualified for a World Cup since 2002. So, we were admitted into FIFA in 1992, four years later, we won the African Nations Cup, six years later we qualify for the World Cup, then around 10 years later, we're in another World Cup. So, the federation has stayed the same, players have come and gone, coaches have come and gone, so you've got to say that why we're not qualifying for World Cups, I've got to think that the mentality of SAFA has remained the same, because the people are the same. Unfortunately, football has moved on, and we're playing catch-up. Unfortunately, we think we're a footballing nation where we think we've arrived once Sundowns won the CAF Champions League, we haven't. Playing catch-up is becoming harder and harder. It's now 16 years since we've qualified. Are we going to qualify for the next World Cup? I can't tell you. Drastic changes need to be made at the head for the body to change, and the mindset of football in South Africa amongst footballers, coaches, ex-players, ex-coaches and amongst fans. You know, SAFA don't realise what they're doing to our football. The longer it carries on, the harder it's going to get.

JN: What message would you give to those yet to feature in a major tournament for Bafana Bafana?

MF: I think as a player, keep on working hard and know what you are doing, hopefully you will get the reward of being able to represent South Africa at a continental tournament, being the African Cup of Nations, and obviously at the World Cup. I would say to all young players, you get what you put in, so keep working hard and just know that as an individual, you showcase your talent, and then hopefully, in a team environment, the team showcase their talent, so that we can actually qualify for the World Cup in 2022, which is Qatar.

JN: Going back to 1998, you played against France, who went on to win the tournament. Didier Deschamps, who captained the '98 winning team, is now the head coach. How much of a chance would you give his side to go all the way?

MF: He's obviously got phenomenal charges, he's got fantastic players, some of the best individuals in the world. But the French need to get it together, and we also need to remember that they won it in 1998, but in 2002, they got knocked out of the first round. On paper, they look fantastic, but as we all know, sports don’t get played on paper, it gets played on the field. Deschamps has experience as a coach, he knows what it takes, and I assume he knows what it takes to get the best out of his players. Most importantly, he's got an unbelievably talented team, he just needs to make sure that they work together as a team. They certainly have a good chance, there's about six teams that is going to be there and about. Germany, France, Belgium, who are my dark horses, Spain as well, who have turned the corner, and then of course, Argentina and Portugal because of the two star players. I just don't think those two individuals [Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi] can carry their team all the way to the final or to lift the trophy. I know the English will also have a chance, so I think it's actually quite an open World Cup, where, like I said, six teams could probably win. It's an interesting World Cup, I just think from a fan's point of view, from a logistical point of view, it's exciting. That's what FIFA do, they spread the World Cup around the world, that's why it's called the World Cup, so let's just go and see how Russia host the World Cup. I think that's the most important thing from a fan's point of view on how they showcase the World Cup.

JN: I'm sure the fans reading this interview will wonder: who is Mark Fish tipping to win the World Cup?

MF: I'm going to say who I'd like to win the World Cup, and that's Spain, because I like how the Spanish play football. It doesn't really matter to me who wins the World Cup, but I would like Spain to win because of how they play football, I've always loved their style of play, and I loved what they did here in 2010. Obviously, they disappointed themselves in 2014, but I think they might have turned the corner and let's just hope they can put on a good show.

JN: And then from an African point of view, which nation do you think can go the furthest in the competition?

MF: Well, it's a tough one for all five teams that have qualified. Three of them have qualified for the first time in four World Cups. Obviously, everybody is going to want to go with Egypt because Mohamed Salah is in the form of his life, but you've got Senegal, who have Sadio Mane, and Nigeria as well, who always seem to upset one or two of the big teams in the big tournaments. Morocco have qualified for the first time in a long time, and Tunisia. So, it's difficult to say which team based on the form of all five teams going into the World Cup. You'd like to see Egypt go the furthest because of Salah, but I just think any of the African nations should just go out there and represent themselves, and let's hope they can represent the continent to the best of their ability, because it's about time we have an African team that does go a little bit further than expected, and let's hope that we don't hear the reports of in-camp fighting, which usually disrupts a World Cup. I wish all five African teams could go there and make a successful World Cup out of it, there's no team I could pick out above the rest.

JN: Lastly, Mark, apart from the Messi's, Ronaldo's and the Neymar's, who would you say is one player we should keep our eyes on in the tournament?

MF: I think Eden Hazard in a Belgium team could be very key, Isco as well in the Spanish team, with Iniesta coming to swansong. Antoine Griezmann for France as well. These are a couple of players that I think will do well. Mo Salah, obviously, and Mane to see what they could do from an African point of view. The good thing about a World Cup is that we have expectations of superstars that we know of, but what comes out of a World Cup is superstars that we don't know too much of, and players who go on to take the World Cup by both feet, and make sure that they make a name for themselves. I think that's what the most exciting thing about the World Cup is.

JN: Mark, it was great chatting to you. Thanks a lot for your time.

MF: No problem, Jesse. Always a pleasure.