Johannesburg - Gordon Igesund's career has come full circle after he was announced as the new coach of Highlands Park - the club he turned out for as a player in the late 1970's.
The former Bafana Bafana coach, famous for winning four league titles with four different PSL clubs (Manning Rangers, Santos, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns) has been without a job since getting sacked by SuperSport United in January this year.
But he's now back in the game after it was announced on Tuesday that he will be taking over the reins from Allan Freese, who had been responsible for winning promotion from the National First Division last season.
A club rich in history, Highlands Park began their existence in 1959. They have undergone several name changes (Highlands Power FC, Dion Highlands FC, Welkom Eagles) and have also sold their franchise a few times (Jomo Cosmos, Port Elizabeth Blackpool, Silver Stars).
On each occasion, though, they have worked their way back up through the divisions, their latest rebirth having begun in 2003 when they campaigned in the SAFA regional (fourth tier) division.
Now with one of their former players, and one of South Africa's most decorated coaches at the helm, the Lions of the North have shown their ambition of becoming one of the country's top clubs.
The 60-year-old Igesund, who has also coached at Ajax, Maritzburg, Free State Stars and Moroka Swallows, appears the perfect man for the project. “I'm very pleased and excited about coaching Highlands Park because of the affinity I have with the name Highlands Park Football Club,” he said.
“When I think of the name I think of players like Martin Cohen, Julie Kaplan, Eugeune Kleynhans, Jerry Sedike, the first [non-white] player to play in a white team, that was in 1979, and we had fantastic times.
“The name is an institution, and to be part of that, to try to get the club back to those days, would be a fantastic achievement for everybody,” said Igesund.
Having worked so widely across the country over the last two decades, Igesund knows most of the players he is inheriting. And although he says the immediate goal is consolidation in the top flight, he is not ruling out the possibility of challenging for title honours, be it this season or in the next couple of years.
“There are a few players I have worked with before - Rudi Isaacs, Thanduyise Khuboni with the national team, Collins Mbesuma and others,” said the Durban-born coach. “It's always difficult when a team comes up from the First Division to the Premier League, it takes them a little while to settle down with the pace of the game.
“They are a hard-working team and I have always said, give me a group of players that want to work hard. I don't need superstars, Maradona's, fancy players. Football can be a cruel game - you have to work hard all the time and I believe I have got that at Highlands Park from what I have seen of their play.
“We have a short term and a long term plan. Highlands Park wants to be one of the great teams in African football, and I think we can be there. But you have to start walking before you can run. The most important thing now is to make sure we stay in the league, try and challenge for a good position.
“It's [winning the league] not a belief or a dream, I have actually been there and done that. A team like Santos, very unfashionable, won the championship. I had a team like Manning Rangers, came from the Federation, their very first game we got beaten 9-1 by Kaizer Chiefs but went on to win the league by eight points.
“So sometimes it's not a dream, I know it's possible if you can get the right mentality and the belief and work hard. Not that I'm saying I'm going to win the league now, I think it may take three or four years for Highlands Park to get there.”
In the Absa Premiership, Igesund finds his side fourth from bottom, although his first task is to lead his team into battle against Chippa United in a Telkom Knockout in just a couple of days' time.
“Friday's game against Chippa at the Makhulong Stadium will be tough because I have only had three days to work with the players,” he admitted, “but it's also a great opportunity.
“We're playing against a very talented team who are on form at the moment and I think Dan [Malesela] has done a great job and it's going to be very difficult. But the Telkom has been good to me, I won it two years ago with SuperSport, so hopefully we can go far. Cup competitions are really an opportunity. You can play three games and be in a final.”
African News Agency