Mbombela – In the immediate aftermath of the latest installment of Platinum Stars’ extraordinary season, somewhere inside Mbombela Stadium, Dikwena “caretaker” coach Allan Freese was stopped in his tracks by club chairman Ratanga Nke.
“You won’t believe this but he put me in a corner and said ‘we must talk again on Monday’,” said Freese.
“So I must wait and see if anything positive comes out of it.”
Frankly, if lifting the Telkom Knockout was not enough to seal Freese a permanent deal at Stars, then lunacy must reign at the Phokeng side.
As Orlando Pirates coach Roger De Sa conceded, after watching his team slip to yet another cup final defeat, their second at the hands of Freese in this campaign: “It’s a good time to talk” for the Stars mentor.
Freese comes across as a quiet and understated man.
He shies away from the limelight, and visibly sighed at the post-match press conference, when he was asked to answer just a few more questions.
But the team he has produced have strolled purposefully onto centre stage, winning everything in sight in the current campaign.
Dikwena had just one trophy before the start of this season, the 2006 Coca-Cola Cup in their previous incarnation as Silver Stars.
They have a reputation for punching above their weight, also finishing as Absa Premiership runners up twice, including last season under Cavin Johnson.
But Freese has turned them from “nearly” men into “really” men, with the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout already in the locker.
Stars beat Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Pirates on their way to this latest title, a bloody swathe of giant-killing completed on Saturday night in Nelspruit by a brilliant double from Botswana substitute Mogakolodi Ngele.
Pirates had taken the lead on the half-hour mark with a header from captain Lucky Lekgwathi, nodding home, Daine Klate’s free-kick, albeit from an offside position.
But the 23 year old Ngele struck twice in the last 12 minutes to tear the trophy from Pirates’ grasp. His first was a fine finish, clipped over Senzo Meyiwa. But his second was a show-stopper two minutes from time, a left-footed curler from outside the box leaving Meyiwa with no chance.
Freese has to be commended for his courage in throwing Ngele on when chasing the game, taking off a defensive midfielder in Issa Sarr, and bringing on the Motswana with magic in his feet.
“I think the preparations we had worked out for us,” said Freese afterwards.
“When we conceded in the first half we didn’t panic, we went back in the changeroom and looked at what we could do better … when we didn’t push up enough to support Robert (Ng’ambi) and Henrico (Botes), we decided to take out a holding midfielder, and put in an attacking midfielder and it worked out well for us.”
For De Sa, this was a horrible case of déjà vu, having seen his side lose both the MTN8 final to Stars on penalties, and the Champions League final already this season. Little wonder that he stood in the dugout at the final whistle, shaking his head.
His side were not able to capitalise on their first half advantage, strikers Lennox Bacela and later Collins Mbesuma decidedly ineffectual.
Stars goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane did make one wonderful reaction save, from his own player, Luvolwethu Mpeta, who could not avoid Klate’s cross, to keep his side in the game.
But Pirates eventually paid the price for sitting back far too much as the match drew to a conclusion.
“There was a period of 10 minutes before they scored where we couldn’t get out of our own half, that was the difference,” added De Sa.
“(Henrico) Botes held the ball up for them and knocked it about. We had no one to hold the ball up, not Lennox or Collins, and that was disappointing.
“Eventually the momentum swings, and they got more opportunities. Senzo never made a save and their goalkeeper got Man of the Match, but these are moments that are key during a game and they weren’t good.”
De Sa admitted it would be hard for Pirates to lift themselves after this defeat, but said they had no option but to look ahead.
“We just have to keep on going and reach the next final. We can’t sit and worry, we must look forward,” he said.
“We can’t throw in the towel and give up because we have lost three finals in three months. We could win the next three in a row, who knows?”
The Pirates coach was also dismissive of what is likely to be further speculation over his future in the coming weeks.
“When I lost my first game at Pirates there were people calling for my head … we just have to try harder to get to the next final, and win the next final,” he said.