at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Whether or not Mamelodi Sundowns finish the job on Tuesday evening and capture the Absa Premiership title by beating SuperSport United in their Tshwane derby, the man standing on the touchline for the Brazilians will certainly have plenty to say.
Pitso Mosimane is never short of a word or two to describe his team’s performances as one of the more entertaining, interviewable coaches the league has to offer. And this season, Mosimane is set to put his money where his mouth is.
The former player from Kagiso turned coach has bounced back brilliantly from his sacking in 2012 as Bafana Bafana coach and is odds-on to celebrate his 50th birthday in July having become the first black South African coach to win the league title since the formation of the PSL in 1996.
It would be fitting for Mosimane’s men to complete the task against Matsatsantsa, the side where his coaching career began back in 2001. Mosimane won a couple of knockout trophies with SuperSport – the 2004 SAA Supa8 and 2005 Nedbank Cup – but the league title remained elusive, as in 2007 he left to assist Carlos Alberto Parreira with Bafana Bafana.
The natural successor to Parreira when the Brazilian left after the 2010 Fifa World Cup, Mosimane’s international coaching career started brightly, including a home friendly win against Ghana and an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying triumph at home to Egypt.
But his grip on the job floundered as Bafana failed to qualify for the 2012 Cup of Nations, Mosimane the main man responsible as his side did not know the rules when a draw with Sierra Leone in Nelspruit was not enough to take them to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
A draw at home to Ethiopia at the start of the qualifying campaign for this year’s World Cup was enough to see him shown the door by Safa.
Consequently, Mosimane had a career to rebuild when he joined Sundowns in the middle of last season. And slowly but surely he has turned them into a force likely to capture the league title for the first time since the 2006/07 season.
With Sundowns’ vast resources, critics might suggest that Mosimane has the easiest club coaching job in the country. Yet it is no small task to take a bloated squad, full of well-paid stars, and turn them into the most competitive team in the country. Plenty of coaches in the past six years have failed in the face of expectation at the Brazilians, Johan Neeskens and Hristo Stoichkov to name but two.
Mosimane has made sure Sundowns have peaked at the right time this season, nine straight league wins seeing them storm past Kaizer Chiefs at the top of the table. Now one more win – against SuperSport on Tuesday or Maritzburg United on the final day of the season on Saturday – will guarantee league glory.
When they lost to Bidvest Wits on March 1, Sundowns were nine points adrift of Chiefs with 11 games to play. Now they are four points in front with two to play – a remarkable turnaround.
Sundowns have tightened up their defence with six clean sheets in their nine-game streak. Thabo Nthethe has proved an inspired January signing, while Alje Schut has been superb alongside him in the heart of the Brazilians’ defence. Hlompo Kekana has also been brilliant just in front of the back four.
Further forward, Teko Modise has produce four goals in the past nine games – three of them winners – and has to be a candidate for the Player of the Year award. Lebohang Mokoena has given the Sundowns attack a new dimension since his return from injury, while veteran Surprise Moriri has also popped up with key strikes.
A special mention must also go to Manqoba Mngqithi, who came into the Sundowns coaching set-up as an assistant in Februray and it can be no coincidence that his arrival coincided with the Brazilians’ surge to the top.
But at the heart of it all is Mosimane, a man on the brink of his greatest achievement in coaching thus far, an achievement that will provide encouragement to all South African coaches.
“There’s a wrong mentality of not believing in local black coaches, some sort of mental colonialism, and that’s bad for our football,” Mosimane said back in June 2011, in the middle of his Bafana Bafana stint.
And the man himself is now on the verge of offering further proof that local is indeed lekker. - Sunday Independent