Desiree Ellis, once again, the toast of the Mother City. Long the darling of Cape football during her playing years, she has now achieved as a coach as well after inspiring Banyana Banyana to victory in the Cosafa Cup Championship in Zimbabwe last week.
In the final against the hosts, with the score at 1-1, and extra-time looming, Ellis’ team netted a late goal to clinch the competition. The event will also be remembered for Banyana’s stunning fight back in the semi-final when they were 3-0 down to Zambia, with 15 minutes remaining. They staged a rousing counter-attack to level at 3-3, and then went on to win on penalties.
Ellis is still only the interim coach of the Banyana squad, having been in the caretaker role since Dutch coach Vera Pauw left a year ago. The Capetonian has applied for the vacant head coach position. There are three candidates in line for the Bafana job - two foreigners and Ellis.
But Ellis is not worrying too much about that right now. She’s just enjoying the moment. We spoke to her in the wake of Banyana’s success in Zimbabwe:
Q: Congratulations on your achievement in Zimbabwe. As the first South African to have won the Cosafa Cup as a player and a coach, give us some insight into how you feel.
A: I’m still very emotional and I only realised the magnitude of the achievement after the medal ceremony when I was interviewed. But it was never about me, it was always about the team, and anything else was just a bonus.
Q: Banyana Banyana produced some memorable fight backs during the competition. What was the secret to their resilience and strength of character?
A: In the camp, we always spoke about an attitude of gratitude - to have the belief, mental strength and never-say-die attitude. And that the team had to fight for all the players back home, the sponsors and Safa, who have always supported the national team.
Q: As coach, what would you say was the most important factor behind the success in Zimbabwe?
A: Well, I wish people could have seen the team in camp. The togetherness, support and encouragement within the group were amazing. And that spirit was then transferred onto the pitch, but the biggest thing was the belief and faith in God.
Q: As a Capetonian who continues to make us proud, sketch briefly your background and how you got into football?
A: I started playing at the age of six with boys, then joined a team called Athlone Celtic at the age of 15. I also made the provincial team at the same time. I went on to make my Banyana debut as the vice-captain at the age of 30, scoring a hat-trick on debut against Swaziland in a 14-0 win. I then captained the national team for nine years.
Q: After your success as a player, how did the shift into coaching come about?
A: I did a Safa Introductory coaching course while I was still playing. But then PJ Willams of the Premier Cup said should I stop playing and let people remember me for the good things I did when I was playing.
So I did various coaching courses with the KNVB through the Stars in their Eyes Foundation (intermediate, advanced and teaching skill). I have completed a CAF B License coaching course and currently have a CAF A License coaching certificate. I also coached various provincial teams from U15-U19 and coached Spurs WFC for about nine years until I became interim coach of Banyana Banyana.
Q: After the achievement in Zimbabwe, what are the positives for the team, and what is the next goal for Banyana?
A: The team showed great mental strength, teamwork and never-say-die attitude. But importantly they scored goals which has been a challenge as the ratio to chances created before was minimal. The next goal, a big goal, would be to qualify for the 2018 AWCON in Ghana and to qualify for the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France.
Q: Sketch some of the difficulties faced by women’s football and what can be done to lift the sport even more?
A: I think more corporates have to come on board to sponsor women’s football and women sports, and the media to cover more women sports and events. Sasol have been fantastic in sponsoring the nine provincial leagues and have afforded players the opportunity to play and to be scouted by national coaches. But a national league will make the gap to international football a lot smaller. We also have to play against higher ranked opponents to improve our ranking and, in turn, allow our players to be scouted to play in the better leagues abroad.
Q: You’ve had great success as a player. What advice would you offer to young footballers making their way in the game?
A: Never doubt your ability, but work hard and smart, and try to be better than what you were the day before. Always give of your best.
Q: Who is your all-time favourite footballer in the world?
A: A few actually I’m a big Manchester United fan, so Bryan Robson and Ryan Giggs when I was growing up. And, of course, all the women footballers who raise the profile of the women’s game.
Q: If you could change some things in football, what would it be?
A: Equal opportunities for women, more sponsorship and better media coverage, national leagues in all countries and to make a career out of playing football because most players in Africa have jobs and play football.
Q: What is the best goal you’ve scored?
A: Three stand out. Many years ago when I just started playing, there was an inswinging corner goal and a diving header. My best goal for Banyana was in the 2000 African Women’s Championship against Reunion at Vosloorus - I had no-one to pass to, so I just went past the defenders and steered it past the keeper.
Q: What is the best goal you’ve seen scored?
A: Portia Modise’s goal against Sweden at the 2012 Olympics
Q: What is your favourite football memory?
A: There is more than one The 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa, and Banyana qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Then there was also my first trophy with Banyana, which was the 2002 Cosafa Cup, and obviously winning the 2017 Cosafa Cup as a coach.
Q: Barcelona or Real Madrid, and why?
A: Neither, I’m a devoted Manchester United fan.
Q: Best women’s footballer you’ve seen?
A: Two: Mia Hamm of the USA and Marta of Brazil
Q: Funniest chirp you’ve heard in football?
A: “Let’s go watch these women play football and have a good laugh” They were embarrassed and pleasantly surprised and became our biggest fans.
Q: Tell us the last dish you would like to eat before you move on to the next life.
A: I love chicken and seafood, but it’s got to be a very good chicken curry or seafood curry.