“My earliest memories are of growing up in Cape Town, and I still have very fond memories of that. When I was called up for the first time for Bafana for a friendly against Australia, it was a great honour. Football in South Africa is very different from what I was used to in England, but I loved the changing-room atmosphere.”
Nominated as captain of the national team after goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa was tragically murdered, Furman has become a crowd favourite with Bafana fans, who scream 'Mluuuuungu' (from mlungu for white person) when he is on the ball. The 26-year-old told FIFA.com that he had never thought about the honour of being made captain. “Of course, when Senzo sadly died, I think football was the last thing any of us who knew him were thinking about. My thoughts were solely with Senzo and his family.
He is quick to dismiss any questions about his captaincy in relation to his being one of two white players in the side. “It has not crossed my mind. Within the team, there are no such divides, we are very much united with our beliefs and goals and are a very close bunch with a great team spirit. For us, it's all about football, which has united us all together and is the only language we know and understand.”
Furman said that leading the team out onto the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban for the clash against Sudan was something he would always cherish. “It was without doubt one of the highlights and proudest moments of my career. It was incredible to lead the team out and to an important victory.”
The three points the team picked up from their 2-1 victory against Sudan ensured South Africa a place at the soon-to-start finals in Equatorial Guinea. It is the first time the team had qualified for the showpiece event of African football since 2008, though they did participate in 2013 as hosts. Furman is now looking forward to the finals, where Bafana will face Algeria, Ghana and Senegal in Group C, described by many as the Group of Death. “We are very excited for the tournament. We have shown some great form in the qualifying stages and hopefully we can continue this form in the tournament.
It's all about football, which has united us all together and is the only language we know and understand.
South African captain Dean Furman on the team's unity
“I think the group will be very tight. We know we are coming up against some top teams and players who are competing in top leagues in the world, but we are going to Equatorial Guinea to fight. We will make our nation proud and we will make our families proud. We've got great belief within our ranks, and we've got some top players and are very excited to go and showcase that at the tournament.”
He is reluctant to say who will win the showpiece of African football. “We hope to come back as winners, but right now it is hard to pick a favourite. All 16 teams will believe they are in with a chance. With the current holders Nigeria out, the tournament is an open one.”
International captain in the third tier
For South African fans, Furman was an obvious choice as captain for the way he plays. “I've always been a player who is vocal on the pitch and tries to help my team-mates. I think it is an important role for Bafana as the more leaders we have on the pitch the better.”
Furman currently plays for Doncaster Rovers in the English League 1, having earlier been a youth player with Chelsea, before moving north to Rangers. “My times at Chelsea and Rangers were a vital part to my career. At Chelsea, I was lucky enough to be coached by Brendan Rodgers, who taught me so much in my two years in the youth team. I had a great opportunity to watch the top players in the game such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Davie Weir, Barry Ferguson, and try learn as much as possible off them.”
He does admit that he would be keen to play at a higher level. “League One is a very tough, demanding and competitive league, but of course, as with any player, I would like to play at the highest level possible. At the moment I am a Doncaster Rovers player and in the second year of my contract. I am enjoying my time at the club and my aims after being relegated last season were to help the club make a direct return to the Championship.”
With plenty of scouts watching the Cup of Nations games, Furman could be excused for seeing the tournament as a stepping stone for bigger things, but it is not something that is on his mind. “Of course many people from around the world will be watching the AFCON as it hosts many top players. At this stage and during the tournament, I will be fully focused on helping Bafana go as far as possible and not thinking too far past that.”