JOHANNESBURG – Desiree Ellis’ rise to the summit of women’s coaching in the continent wasn't short of hardship and resent.
However, her strong belief in her coaching capabilities, which was aided by the backing from her team and loved-ones kept her soldiering on. As an interim coach, 12 months into the job, she led Banyana to the Cosafa Cup victory - which made her the first South African to achieve that feat as player and coach - but that, to her naysayers, was not enough to get the role on a permanent basis.
Fast track to an additional six months as a stand-in, after Safa’s rumoured inability to find the prime target, she finally landed the role permanently. Still her doubters said she wouldn’t deliver the team to the Promised Land - which was to qualify for their first Word Cup - and again, she proved them wrong.
“It’s not about standing there on the field with the whistle, it’s takes a lot of hard-work,” Ellis said as she recalled the year that was. “It’s the work-ethic that you put in and making sure things are ready when you get to camp. When you put in the hard work, the rewards are always there.”
Ellis’ hard-work last year was rewarded by their successful defence of the Cosafa Cup on home soil. However, their ultimate fruit was the qualification to their first World Cup through an Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon) second-place finish. Ditto for her outstanding leadership, Ellis scooped the 2018 Caf Women’s Coach of the Year award last Tuesday.
“A friend of mine from Cape Town was texting me (to wish me well) on the day that I was leaving for Senegal, and I said, 'look I am up against two talented coaches so chances of me winning are slim'.
But (he said), if your name is not there then you wouldn’t have stood a chance, you have to keep believing,” Ellis explained.
“But, overall it’s been a team effort. I haven’t posted anything to say thank you, I needed to come back and take a picture with my two lieutenants Thinasonke (Mbuli) and Sherlyn Booysen because we really work closely together and I needed to make sure they get the credit they deserve.”
Ellis wasn’t the only Banyana big winner in Dakar, as striker Thembi Kgatlana bagged the Women’s Player of the Year and Goal of the Year awards.
Kgatlana’s impressive performances last year included being voted as the Most Valuable Player in the Cyprus Cup and being crowned as the Player of the Tournament in the Awcon that were held in Ghana, late last year. Her solitary strike against Nigeria in that continental showpiece opener received public votes as the Goal of the Year.
“Her achievement gives hope to everyone out there that this little girl, who doesn’t even look like a footballer, is now the best player in Africa,” Ellis said about the Houston Dash striker. "All eyes will be on her to see what she does next.”
Ellis and her troops will put their jovial mood aside as they begin their World Cup preparations against Netherlands and Sweden on Saturday and Tuesday at Cape Town Stadium.@Mihlalibaleka