Until Rio Ferdinand picked up a knee injury on the pristine surface of England's premier training pitch at the Royal Bafokeng sports campus yesterday, Football Association officials were congratulating themselves on their triumph of turning a building site into a luxury World Cup base in four months.
When The Independent visited the Royal Bafokeng in February it was the construction industry's equivalent of Theo Walcott – plenty of potential but still very much a work in progress. Half of the 72 rooms in the complex's Royal Mareng hotel were not yet completed, the high-performance centre was lacking a roof and the clubhouse was a concept rather than a building with doors and windows.
Yesterday, FA officials proudly relayed the compliments the place had already got from the players who, when they ran out for their first training session, had no fears over the pitches which had caused Fabio Capello such concern when he visited in December. It would be putting it mildly to say that England's South Africa World Cup base has been a cause of some anxiety for the FA over the past six months.
In Germany they had the Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe, perched majestically on a forested hill in the Black Forest, and in Japan they were protected by gunboat on Awaji Island, so Royal Bafokeng had a lot to live up to. The zebra-style upholstery in the lobby and the long winding drive were finished months ago but it was a frantic last-minute job to get many of the outbuildings finished.
The BBC is occupying the clubhouse that stands next to England's training pitch in which the broadcasters have studios. They are the only people allowed to share Capello's inner sanctum but the FA has given that some thought too, and the big windows that give a view over England's training session have been blacked out with curtains.
Built by the Bafokeng Nation, the major landowners in the area, the campus stands out in the small dusty town of Phokeng, nine miles from Rustenburg. The biggest show in town is Anglo Platinum, a South African mining company valued at £14bn and one of the world's biggest producers of platinum. The miners at the Bafokeng Rasimone mine live in corrugated iron dormitories just a few miles back along the R565 road from the luxury of England's Royal Bafokeng complex.
That is where the money for the Bafokeng sports campus has come from – the King of the Bafokeng nation, Kgosi August Mokgatle has sold exploration rights to big mining companies. But as you turn left into Bafokeng, and begin to negotiate the forensic security searches at the gate, it is noticeable that the luxury to which the England players are accustomed stops at the fence.
Yesterday, a few of the locals stood by the fence on the scrubland that adjoins the vast Bafokeng site in the vain hope of catching sight of one of the players training half a mile away. As you walked towards the training pitches at the very end of the compound, police officers on horseback patrolled the long fences.
The FA officials can only act on the advice that they are given – they took no chances with security, with more than 50 guards dotted all over the site – and they have to provide their players with the best possible facilities. However, as journalists and officials were bussed in past the locals waiting outside, it was one of the first signs that this World Cup will not be able to change everybody's way of life in South Africa.
The Royal Bafokeng campus is intended to be used as a base for visiting sports teams as well as a training ground for the Platinum Stars, the Royal Bafokeng-owned team who are playing an England XI in a friendly on Monday that will be open to locals. For now the place is decked out in what Capello hopes will be inspirational pictures of players such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard lifting trophies for their club sides.
The manager has not been so hardline as to ban the traditional games room which has snooker and pool tables, a darts board, table tennis and the usual Wii and PSP games consoles. The staff watched the Mexico-Italy game on the widescreen television in the lounge on Thursday night while John Terry played darts. He will have plenty of time to practise over the next few weeks.
As a man who has even been known to complain about England's luxury hotel in Hertfordshire, Capello declared himself "happy with the facilities". The Italian said: "The people of Bafokeng have worked really hard in the last few months to get everything ready, including the media centre. We're really happy here and I'm focused on the first game we have to play. Also the players."
Other than their matches and the occasional community visit, England's players have no reason to stray outside the gates and into the very different world that lies beyond them. They are at a World Cup finals and about to play in the biggest tournament of their lives before the eyes of the world – although amid this isolation, it is hard to imagine that.Reuse content