Johannesburg - Manqoba Mngqithi’s candid response to the allegations of ill-treatment that Orlando Pirates co-coach Mandla Ncikazi levelled against Simba addressed the importance of taking African competitions seriously.
Ncikazi held court at the Benjamin Mkapa Stadium after their 1-0 loss to the Tanzanian giants in the first leg of the Caf Confederation Cup quarter-final last week, lamenting the club, media and country for the hostile treatment.
But Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Mngqithi, a regular in the African safari for almost a decade, having also won the continental crown six years ago, gave his two cents’ worth on the matter this week.
“To be honest, I wouldn’t want to dwell much on what coach Mandla said. I don’t know their experiences and what happened in Tanzania,” Mngqithi said.
“With us, it’s a little bit different. In the past there were a lot of such treatments but it was mind games more than anything else.”
The consistency of working their socks off to be part and parcel of the premier inter-club African showpiece, the Caf Champions League, didn’t only ensure that Sundowns mastered the art of playing in the continent but it earned them respect as well.
“We decided as a team to have an advanced team and make sure that they prepare everything for us in terms of the training pitches, the buses that we’re going to use and the hotel that we are going to be accommodated in to make sure that we set our standard,” Mngqithi said.
“At this stage as Sundowns, I think we’ve earned a lot of respect on the continent, we are treated fairly well and we are supported in these countries.”
Granted Pirates have the star above their crest to show that they once conquered Africa as well. But that was what, 27 years ago? The closest they came to winning another star was in 2013 when they lost in the final.
The theatrics, dirty tricks and mind games of playing in African football, at club and international level, are well documented. But playing regularly in these competitions toughens the skin of all those who are involved in it.
Pirates haven’t been impressive in this regard, given that their last impressive showing on the continent was in the final of the Confederation Cup under coach Eric Tinkler seven years ago.
But for them to be regulars in such competitions, they need to dominate locally first. So far they’ve blown hot and cold, especially with numerous changes of coaching personnel over the years.
Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids are in their first gig as joint coaches at the club, while Sundowns’ duo Mngqithi and Rulani Mokwena have trotted the continent for years.
With every club, players come and go, but the culture and history remain.
In the current Pirates squad, it’s only captain Happy Jele and vice Ntsikelelo Nyauza that were in the squad that played in Tunisia in 2015, while at Sundowns there are a handful of players that boarded the flight to Cairo in 2016.
Integration of players is important, and retaining senior players who embody the culture and history of the club is equally important, given the experience they offer on and off the pitch.
But it’s not too late for Pirates to avenge their loss to Simba on Sunday evening at the Orlando Stadium and progress to the last four of the competition.
And perhaps it’s worth remembering that this competition is not only Pirates’ realistic chance of winning silverware this season; it could also be Ncikazi and Davids’ final audition for another season at the club.