CAPE TOWN – Fadlu Davids has, over the years, left and returned to the Mother City on many occasions, but the Maritzburg United coach admits there is something a little different about this latest homecoming.
The 36-year-old tactician has been the inspiration behind Maritzburg’s fantastic season in the PSL, finishing fourth on the league standings and lining up in Saturday’s Nedbank Cup final against Free State Stars at Cape Town Stadium (7pm kickoff).
When it comes to home, it’s always there, in the heart.
Davids arrived back home yesterday morning as part of the KwaZulu-Natal side’s delegation to drum up support for the team ahead of the final. But it also provided the promising young coach an opportunity to reflect, to take a trip down memory lane, and provide some insight into what galvanised him as a young kid to make the jump to the professional game.
“As a youngster, I remember my dad taking me to Athlone Stadium to watch Santos, with players like Duncan Crowie,” Davids said. “There were also those great Cape Town Spurs teams of the time as well. I’ve never played a final in Cape Town, but to return now for a final as a coach is something really special for me.”
“In fact, when we heard that the final was going to be played in Cape Town, I can assure you it added to the motivation. So, for Saturday, just for the day, I’m hoping that the Ajax Cape Town and Cape Town City fans, that the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fans, can all come out and support us, just for the day.”
Davids is originally from Surrey Estate and attended Windsor High School in Lansdowne. He started his junior career at Connoisseur Spurs, the club that would eventually form part of the well-known Thornhill United club.
Later, as his game progressed, he was part of the Cape Town Spurs Under-17 squad and he had short stints at Saxon Rovers and Mother City FC before taking himself off to Bulgaria to play for Chernomorets Burgas.
At the time, he was with another South African, Simba Marumo - and, because the Bulgarian side had a link with Inter Milan, the two players also got to spend some time training with the Italian giants.
Davids spent one season in Bulgaria and then returned to SA, where he went on to play for Manning Rangers, Avendale Athletico, Vasco da Gama, Silver Stars and Maritzburg. The big career decision, though, came in January 2012. Davids was only 30-years-old at the time, and he had to decide whether to keep playing or move into coaching.
“I had just had an ankle operation,” he explained. “And I was struggling to recover. So Ernst (Middendorp, Maritzburg coach at the time) had a chat with me. The question he posed was: ‘do you want to think about the next two years playing, or do you want to think about the next 20 years coaching?’ I guess it wasn’t really a choice - I was the player-assistant-coach until the end of the season. The next season I retired and became the full-time assistant coach.”
And here we are. Today Davids is one of the rising young coaches in the PSL, earning plaudits from just about everybody across the length and breadth of SA for his superb work at Maritzburg. He has a Uefa B Licence and, after Saturday’s final, he will be off to complete the Uefa A licence.
Davids also gave some insight into what has made Maritzburg so successful this season.
“The squad lost a lot of experience, so what we did was to bring the average age down to about 23 years,” Davids said. “We knew we would have ups and downs, but we also knew it was important that our young players had a platform to grow and an opportunity to build their experience.”
“The last nine games of the season before were the building blocks of the structure that we wanted to implement. Then, this season, it all came to fruition as those players blossomed.”
“In the end, it was just about giving the players the trust. Also, what we did was to tweak the system or the formation to complement what we had in the squad. We always made sure that the structure we used accommodated the strengths of the players we had.”
As for the future, Davids was just as blinkered in what he wanted; a clear sign that he’s a man who thinks long and deeply about things. He doesn’t wade into things spontaneously - everything he does is as a result of a well thought-out plan.
“Look, the main aim right now is to continue to improve this club,” said the Maritzburg coach.
“Looking even further forward, I have ambitions to coach in a different country. I want to experience coaching in a different culture - not many South Africans have done it.”