“It’s upsetting at times,” Dean Furman says in a calm and composed tone at SuperSport United’s training base in Sunninghill, north of Johannesburg. Even though he has almost 50 caps to his name and a stint as Bafana Bafana captain, Furman still finds himself having to prove he deserves to don the green and gold.
Stuart Baxter, Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba and Gordon Igesund never doubted his quality. They all backed Furman during their stints in the Bafana hot seat, and he delivered with his strong work ethic and professionalism. “I just know that I have to do a job. What’s important is what my fellow teammates and the coach think. They’re the ones who see first hand what I do. I would say that the role I play is quite an unselfish role. It doesn’t generate many highlights and it’s not going to get headlines on the back pages despite the odd goal once a year,” Furman says with a smile.
“It’s not a glamorous role, but it’s a necessary one. I feel I play an important role in the team. I feel that those around me respect the role I play. If people aren’t happy, then all I can say is that I give my all. I give my everything if selected, and I am proud to wear that jersey and represent my country. It is upsetting at times [that my inclusion in the team is constantly questioned], but that’s football. It’s part of the game. Some people like you and some people don’t like you. You’ve got to be big enough and brave enough to deal with that. That’s one of the things I’ve had to deal with. I’ve taken the criticism constructively and used it in a way to prove people wrong. That’s how I approach the game. I don’t take it to heart. I use it as my fire to show I deserve to wear the Bafana shirt.”
Furman is a victim of identity politics. His critics view him as an outsider, and it doesn’t help that he doesn’t play like a typical South African footballer. The 30-year-old, who was born in Cape Town but moved to England as a five-year-old, isn’t the most fluid player on the pitch.
His best attribute as a footballer is his attitude, which helps him play ahead of more technically gifted players. But he is every coach’s ideal player – a leader who is committed to the cause, gives his all on the pitch and works like a donkey.
“It’s possible that maybe the criticism I get is born out of [that I am an outsider],” Furman says. “But when I put on that South African jersey, I feel like a South African. I was, after all, born here. My parents are from here. My grandparents are from here. All my family is from here. When I put on that jersey, I feel as South African as the guy standing on my left and the guy standing on my right. My performances have shown how much that shirt means to me. I would like to believe that I work extremely hard. When selected, I am readily available and always there for the team. I try not to cause too much drama. I try to go about my business as best as I can for the good of the team. That’s my attitude, not just at Bafana but at SuperSport as well.”
Even though many fans are critical of Furman, the majority support him. His every touch in national team colours is met with chants of “Mluuuuuuuungu ”, especially in Durban.
In the past, the honour of having your name chanted with every touch was reserved for the likes of John “Shoes” Moshoeu, Mark Fish and Matthew Booth. “From my very first call-up, the way the fans have accepted me has been quite special,” Furman says.
“I was unknown. I was, I suppose, a bit of an outsider because I wasn’t from here and wasn’t playing in the local league, so the fans didn’t know me. How they responded to me was quite incredible. So when they call me ‘mlungu’, I feel good. It’s endearing. It definitely gives me a boost.
“I am really grateful because I am not necessarily everyone’s favourite player. I don’t come with the skills and the shibobos. What people can appreciate is my hard work, never-say-die attitude, and that I always give absolutely everything for my club and country. People have respected that and I have had a great relationship with them over my six odd years in the national team.”
A different dressing room
Furman’s debut was against Brazil in Sao Paulo in 2012. Then playing in the third tier of English football, he was a surprise inclusion in the starting 11 against a juggernaut of the game. He put on a storming performance. In his second match against Mozambique in Mbombela, he was named man of the match. He hasn’t looked back since.
“For me, what stood out, and I will remember this for the rest of my life, is the singing and the dancing in the dressing room. I didn’t know what was going to happen, what to expect, but to see that and how the boys interacted was something that I certainly hadn’t done in England. To come here and do that is one of my favourite things about playing in South Africa. The singing and the dancing is definitely one of the highlights of being a part of Bafana Bafana and SuperSport. That dressing room feeling is hard to replicate.”
Furman continues: “The singing wasn’t that bad, because I could hum along. The dancing is a bit of a problem. That’s not my strong point.” Dancing is not the only thing Furman had to learn in the dressing room.
“The way of communicating is something that I had to learn quickly,” Furman says. “Growing up in an English dressing room, we’re very harsh. The coach would come in swearing. It’s quite an aggressive place. I learned pretty quickly that that’s not how things are done here. In the UK, when that happens, say at halftime, it creates a reaction and the players react to that stimulus. That isn’t really the case here. It’s a calmer dressing room. I learned quickly that it’s important how you communicate with your teammates here. That moulded me as a player and as a person.”
Matsatsantsa a Pitori will appear in their second successive MTN8 final on Saturday against Cape Town City at Moses Mabhida Stadium. SuperSport’s recent trips to Durban for cup finals have been fruitful, winning the MTN8 trophy and the Nedbank Cup on recent outings there.
The Nedbank Cup victory was a fitting send-off for Baxter, who left SuperSport for Bafana. The British coach came out in defence of Furman after Bafana’s goalless draw against Libya in Durban, where the midfielder put in a man of the match performance.
“I was very grateful for the coach sticking up for me,” Furman says. “I am not going to be the one to go out there and talk. I think that sometimes, as players, we should let our football do the talking. That’s the best way to silence the critics.”