Leopards had the odds staked against them in their fourth participation in the play-offs in five years.
They had never been victorious in the three-team mini-league, facing Jomo Cosmos who had never lost in the play-offs. As if that wasn’t hard enough, Masutha had just over 24 hours to prepare for hosting Platinum Stars and not Ajax Cape Town after the Urban Warriors lost their case concerning Tendai Ndoro, and were condemned to automatic relegation.
“It’s how you treat your players,” Masutha said. “I am friends with my players. I am a coach, yes but in certain situations I become their friend to make them feel at ease. We even discus tactics together. There was in instance in our match against Platinum Stars where I wanted to take out (Meshack) Maphangule. One of the players came to me and said, ‘but coach can’t we sacrifice (Karabo) Tshepe?’ I looked at it and I saw the players were right. That’s how close we are. I encourage the players to be free, speak out and never be afraid to voice their ideas. I have given them a sense of ‘ownership’ in the running of this team, which is why they fought like they did. They were fighting for their club.”
Leopards’ 1-0 win over Cosmos on Wednesday confirmed Leopards’ return to thePSL with eight points, while Cosmos and Stars are on two points each with one match to go. This is the third time Masutha has been promoted with Leopards. He gained promotion as a player in 2001, did so as an assistant coach in 2011, and this year he did it as the head coach.
“I am over the moon, to be honest,” Masutha said. “It’s been an unbelievable turnaround of the season. When we started there wasn’t much hope. But you know, the effort that these boys put in changed everything. We started to believe. Here we are now, we are in the PSL. I also have to thank the fans for the support they gave us. It has been unbelievable. We last experienced this type of support when we got promoted for the first time. We have brought top flight football to them. It’s quite fitting that we thanked them with giving them a status in the PSL.”
Leopards’ and the Vhembe district local government are also trying to thank Lidoda Duvha’s fans by ensuring they play their games at Thohoyandou Stadium. To do that they have to make certain improvements to the ground so that it’s deemed fit to host top flight football. Masutha praised the fans who packed this stadium in their games in the First Division and play-offs.
“They never stopped singing and they never stopped supporting us,” Masutha said. “Our supporters have matured to be honest. There’s a big difference to how they used to behave and how they behave now. These ones come to support the team and not to coach. They didn’t even whistle or signal that someone must be taken out, which is a big thing. They’ve been our 12th man, and I believe next season it’ll be much, much more than this.”