JOHANNESBURG – The notion that the departure of Rhulani Mokwena, who joined Orlando Pirates as an assistant coach in August – having served in a similar capacity at Mamelodi Sundowns – has everything to do with why his former club is struggling is lazy analysis from armchair critics, at best.
Only in South Africa can one team’s slump be trivialised to such an extent.
Mokwena had a responsibility at Sundowns, and head coach Pitso Mosimane has even admitted as much.
But to suggest that he was the main man – pulling the strings – downgrades Mosimane’s job to junk status.
This belief, that has caught on like wildfire on social media and even used by some television pundits, really has no substance.
Prior to the 2014-15 Premier League season, it was Mosimane who refreshed his dugout by promoting Mokwena, who was a junior coach at the club at the time, to work with the senior team.
This was not a popular choice by any stretch of the imagination.
There were a few within the club who felt they had earned their stripes and should have been first in line instead of an unknown entity such as Mokwena, the nephew of the great Jomo Sono. But Mosimane stood his ground.
“I was given a chance when I was about 33 years old and I have decided to do the same for someone else who I think has great potential, but just needs to be given an opportunity,” he said of Mokwena to me then.
“It was an oversight that we did not officially announce Rhulani joining the technical team, but we promoted him after he did exceptionally well with Clapham High School and our under-19s.”
Sundowns had clinched the league title the campaign before, and Mosimane said he needed fresh thinking instead of ball-boys for assistant coaches.
He, not anyone else, helped grow Mokwena in the three years he spent as part of the Sundowns technical team, which yielded another league trophy as well as the most prestigious of accolades for the club in the Caf Champions League.
One of the reasons the Brazilians are struggling now is due to their poor recruitment policy at the start of the current season, not the departure of Mokwena to Pirates.
Yes, Mosimane said he was surprised when Mokwena gave him short notice confirming that he would be leaving to team up with Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredejovic.
There’s no disputing the fact that he had a specific role, and Sundowns had a gap to close once Mokwena had packed his bags.
But the buck stops with Mosimane. He calls the shots – and it’s no secret that lately he has been getting a few wrong following the club’s third successive defeat, to Chippa United in the opening round of the Telkom Knockout, at the weekend.
Although Sundowns have the numbers as far as depth goes, they compromised on quality when buying Oupa Manyisa, George Lebese and Thokozani Sekotlong – three players who clearly still need a bit of time to adjust to their new surroundings.
Both Manyisa and Lebese were also not at their best at Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, respectively, before making the switch to Chloorkop.
Add to that the injury to Anthony Laffor, Percy Tau having to carry the scoring load all on his own and the poor head-space Khama Billiat is in, Sundowns were bound to hit a bad patch at some point during the season.
Mokwena was part of a successful team over three years, but giving him all the credit now that he’s gone puts unnecessary pressure on a man with huge potential and undermines Mosimane’s immense ability.