Finding Pitso Mosimane not dressed in Bafana Bafana regalia outside the parking lot of the Royal Marang Sports Campus on Monday evening told the story that the end was nigh.
He was the first team official to report back to camp following a day off which he had authorised and, while other team members were travelling by bus, Mosimane had driven himself to the team base.
Several hours after we had spoken informally about reports that he would be sacked, Mosimane’s suitcases were seen being pushed on a trolley out of the team hotel, with his car waiting outside.
It was just after midnight and no doubt at that time, the trip from Phokeng to Johannesburg would have been lonely and arduous for Mosimane. I have little doubt he may have been offered the chance to sleep over for one more evening rather than risk the drive at that hour, but perhaps he felt the humiliation would be too excessive if he opted to leave in the morning.
The end was painful for a man who so dearly loved coaching the national team and who worked tirelessly to land the job, quitting club football to assist first Carlos Parreira and then Joel Santana.
His eye was fixed on what happens post-World Cup 2010, knowing that he was being groomed to take over. And indeed, Mosimane took charge in spite of vehement protests from familiar quarters which pursued a personal, hatred-driven agenda against him.
But as he departed Phokeng this week, few would have empathised with Mosimane, even as his two-year reign could not be described as a disaster. He missed out on African Cup of Nations qualifying due to a rule bungle and, unlike Santana for instance, he was fired on the back of a series of draws, not defeats.
For the record, Mosimane lost only to Niger, Zimbabwe and the United States since taking over in July 2010, Bafana players’ inability to convert chances proving his death knell.
That, for me, was the biggest failure of Mosimane’s regime and, instead of offering solutions, he always sought to apportion blame to the clubs and other structures.
He remained too rigid and his final game in charge – Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Ethiopia which ultimately sank him – is a case in point.
Mosimane decided to select the team for that game based solely on experience and not form. Tsepo Masilela should not have been in the match-day squad given that his injury had been known for a while. Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Thanduyise Khuboni should also not have started.
It was no surprise that when all three players left the pitch, Bafana started to play well, except that it was too little, too late, Katlego Mphela’s equaliser coming with just 13 minutes to go.
As he drove from Phokeng to Johannesburg, Mosimane might have been left thinking if only he had been bolder, benched Masilela, Letsholonyane and Khuboni and refreshed the team a bit.
But being bold was not his character. He preferred the tried and tested formula, which triggered claims of favouritism. For too long he persisted with Bernard Parker even when it was clear he was struggling. Teko Modise had to be dropped at team level before Mosimane was left with no choice but to omit him from his squad. There are plenty of other examples that tell of a coach who became too inflexible in spite of results drying up.
Ultimately, he will now be remembered as perhaps the only Bafana coach to be fired for a draw, when he could have taken a risk and fielded a hungrier team.
Mosimane only has himself to blame for refusing to be audacious and unpredictable.
*Nkareng column will next appear on July 21; Follow him on Twitter @Nkareng