CAPE TOWN – Maritzburg United have always had a close affinity with footballers from the Mother City.
Back in the dark old days when football was segregated, the KwaZulu-Natal club played in the Federation Professional League (FPL) - and, at various times, featured Capetonians such as Boebie Solomons, Salie Adams, Ebrahim Jacobs, Farouk Abrahams, Michael Kleinsmith, Clayton Zeederberg, William “Pele” Anderson, Kevin Valentine, Mogamat de Goede and Clive Carollisen.
Former FPL clubs Manning Rangers and Santos have gone to win the PSL - and, now, Maritzburg, after a stellar season, have again thrust the history and achievement of FPL clubs to the forefront of the media spotlight.
Solomons, who played for Maritzburg in the FPL in the early 1980s and coached the KZN club in the NFD in 2005, says the club has always been ambitious.
“Back when I was playing there, they were already a very progressive club,” said Solomons, who has also coached Santos, Wits, Black Leopards and Polokwane City.
“As a team, they were always competitive, and as a club they were always trying to achieve things. They have a huge following in Maritzburg, and you will always see that the whole region is behind the club.”
Solomons is not surprised that current Maritzburg coach Fadlu Davids and his brother, Maahier (assistant coach), have been so successful. He says he remembers some time back, when Fadlu was about 12, the two brothers regularly attended the coaching courses he was offering at the Athlone Astroturf.
So, with this as background, it is perhaps fitting that the coach who turned around the fortunes of the Team of Choice, this once-great FPL club, has been a Capetonian, Fadlu.
The 37-year-old coach from Surrey Estate has made a sensational impact on the PSL this season - and his nomination for the PSL award of Coach of the Season is fully deserved.
He took a struggling club to fourth position on the league standings and runners-up in the Nedbank Cup; he built a young, energetic squad, added the right blend of experience, and inspired the players to be among the more exciting teams on show; he was innovative in his approach, tactically intuitive and his grace under pressure has been admirable.
For Davids, it has been a remarkable campaign. He is a coach on the rise - and, while he will remain at Maritzburg next season, his ambitions will certainly take him to places better and bigger: be that in the PSL or abroad.
In reflecting on the season just ended, Davids had no doubt about what he thought was the club’s biggest success. In his typical self-effacing manner, the praise he had was for his players and not about his own contribution to the team’s achievements.
“For me, the most important aspect of the season has been the improvement shown by individual players,” said Davids. “Many of the young players came from the club’s MDC team (Reserve League) and they’ve made so much progress over the last season.
“Lebogang Maboe, Siphesihle Ndlovu and Pogiso Sanoka. A player like Pogiso, for example, has developed his game to such an extent that I think he must be one of the best defenders in the PSL. The players have all worked hard to be better and I have to be very proud of what they achieved: fourth position in the league and a place in a Cup final.”
“Next season, we have to set the bar even higher, otherwise the team may give 10 percent less. So we will set the targets. We will analyse everything, even the bad patch we went through during the season when (we) were winless for eight games, five draws and three defeats.”
“We have to improve in the final third, especially with regards to discipline in positioning.”
The Maritzburg coach has also had to deal with a lot more than football preparation; in recent years, the club has been hit by the death of three players: Mondli Cele and Mlondi Dlamini (both car accidents) and Luyanda Ntshangase (struck by lightning).
“Emotionally, the squad took a big knock,” said Davids. “After this, it was always difficult for them to get back on the pitch; you have to remember that they all came through the MDC team together.
There was some depression too - but they soldiered on, and got over it. Losing the players was tough, but the resilience of the squad was admirable and they bounced back well.”
This season, Davids has been nominated for the award alongside the coaches of the PSL’s two-top finishers - Pitso Mosimane of Mamelodi Sundowns and Milutin Sredojevic of Orlando Pirates.
Will he win it? It doesn’t really matter, does it?
For Davids, just the nomination this season is proof of his coaching prowess and demonstrates the excellence of the job he’s done at Maritzburg.