Johan Neeskens’ rant against the media this week illustrated the readiness of football coaches, and many others, to use us as an excuse to cover for their own failures.
Very few media members who packed the Mamelodi Sundowns training ground this week would have been surprised at Neeskens’ senseless raging, for those who have dealt with him for the past 18 months will attest that it’s been a long time coming.
Last week, this column lamented the Sundowns coach’s irascible nature and the disdain with which he has treated almost every media member here, including television interviewers who surely must dread thrusting the mic under his nose.
But Neeskens has no reason to behave as if he’s some god. He has presided over the worst Premiership start for Sundowns. Last season his men wilted in the championship race, surrendering in calamitous circumstances when it had appeared as though they would walk it. A campaign that had looked so promising again yielded no trophy.
Neeskens is already fortunate in that he has set a new record as the longest serving coach since Patrice Motsepe took over the Sundowns presidency, but that cannot mean he’s immune from criticism, or even the sack.
The only logical reason I can find that he’s still in the job, when his expensively-assembled squad have flirted with relegation all season, is that Sundowns have had a great run in the Telkom Knockout, where they will contest tonight’s final against Bloemfontein Celtic. Neeskens is grossly mistaken if he believes he’s survived this long at Chloorkop solely due to his supposed greatness.
Rather, he should be thankful to Motsepe’s unusual, newfound patience, and the fact that some of us – the very people against whom he railed – have highlighted numerously that sacking him would not necessarily address the glut of problems besetting the club.
We have stated that the bloated Chloorkop management and administration structure would unsettle even the most thick-skinned of coaches, and called on Motsepe not to seek to pin the challenges at Sundowns on one man. But as he ranted, Neeskens could only recall the “unfair criticism” that has been directed at him.
His attempts to spell out this unfair criticism were laughable. To him, we should be praising Sundowns for reaching two cup finals this year, or give them “credit”, as he put it. Incredible! Is Neeskens suggesting that Motsepe has become so tolerant of mediocrity that merely reaching finals, and not winning them, now qualifies as an achievement?
The Dutchman went on to highlight that Sundowns had lost “just once” in their last eight league and cup games. Yet conveniently he omits mentioning that loss was against Orlando Pirates – at Sundowns’ Loftus Versfeld home – and that they had only beaten Chippa United in the league until last week’s win over Celtic.
I, for one, refuse absolutely to give “credit” where it is not due. Neeskens is employed to deliver and thus far he has been a failure. He is probably the highest paid coach in the country, coaching a squad made up of some of the highest paid players in the land, recruited at a very high cost. The least he must expect is kid-gloves treatment.
While there can be no disputing that some of Neeskens’ complaints against the media were valid – inaccurate reporting is one of them – it was still most puzzling to hear him rage that some of us had “never kicked a ball”, yet were always ready to criticise and point out mistakes by players on the field. What rubbish! You don’t have to possess a driver’s licence to spot a bad driver!
Neeskens’ grumpiness exposes him as no different to many European coaches who have worked here before, behaving as if they are immune to scrutiny and as though we should be thankful to be close to “greatness”.
But we will not judge coaches on what they did in the 1978 World Cup. We will judge them on nothing but current results. If Neeskens wins what would be his first trophy in South Africa tonight, he will get the “credit” he so craves.
If he doesn’t, heaven help him!
Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng