Rulani Mokwena not leaving Mamelodi Sundowns’ CAF hopes only to ‘luck’

Rulani Mokwena coach of Mamelodi Sundowns team during the African Football League semi-final match between Al-Ahly and Mamelodi Sundowns FC

As Rulani Mokwena prepares to take yet another step towards leading Mamelodi Sundowns to their second CAF Champions League title, the coach uttered the ‘L’ word. Picture:Ayman Aref/NurPhoto via AFP

Published Mar 2, 2024


Such is Rulani Mokwena’s confidence – some would argue arrogance – in his coaching abilities that ‘luck’ is not a word you would expect from his mouth when he talks about the ingredients required for continental success.

But as he prepared to take yet another step towards leading Mamelodi Sundowns to their second CAF Champions League title, the coach called ‘the South African Mourinho’ in some circles uttered the ‘L’ word.

“Lots of consistency, hard work and luck,” he responded to a question about what it would take to win the continent’s premier club knockout competition.

It is the pre-match media conference ahead of their Group A clash with TP Mazembe, and the young Sundowns tactician quickly picks up on his ‘luck’ statement.

‘The gods smile at you’

“You need a lot of luck (to win the Champions League). You need only look at last season with Al Ahly.

“Just look at the Ivory Coast story (in winning the Africa Cup of Nations). Already (knocked) out, coach out and then these people qualify (for the knockout stage) and go on to ride the crest of that wave.”

“(It was) same with Al Ahly,” Mokwena continued in reference to the Egyptian giants’ Champions League success which came about after they narrowly survived group stage elimination – ironically thanks to Sundowns captain Ronwen Williams saving a late penalty against Al Hilal.

“Even our AFL (African Football League) victory and how we made it. We go to Egypt (in the semi-final second leg against Ahly), get a late penalty against us (which was saved) and play with 10 men (after Junior Mendieta was sent off six minutes from time).”

When “the gods smile at you”, as he put it, you have to help them along by working hard. “You then need to be brave and show courage if you are to win the Champions League. You’ve got to be there – get to the quarter-final and the semi-final.

“But go one game at a time, one stage at a time, and perform right there and then. And hopefully the football gods smile at you.”

So while he does believe in luck, Mokwena understands that you also have to ‘make your own luck’. And to this effect, the young coach stops at nothing to ensure his team is well prepared for every match they play.

Ahead of Saturday’s encounter with Mazembe at Lucas Moripe Stadium, he showed just how ready his team is by rattling out the names of the opposition players and their strengths.

The wind blows hardest when you’re top of the tree

Sundowns need to beat Mazembe – the team that got the better of them via a 1-0 win in Lubumbashi in the first round – to finish top of the group as the two teams are locked on 10 points after five group matches. Should they finish on the same points, the Congolese will win via the head-to-head rule.

“We have qualified for the quarterfinals and we now need to try and be top of the group after reaching the 10 points benchmark that we set ourselves. And there’s a huge probability of that happening in today’s game.

“It’s tough, but that’s what it is. The wind blows hardest when you are top of the tree. We dared to dream and dared to climb. Now we must get used to the pressure that comes with it.”

And luck had nothing to do with it. Or did it?