uThongathi FC head coach Ronnie Gabriel. Photo: SIBUSISO MDLALOSE

DURBAN - New kids on the National First Division (NFD) block uThongathi FC promise to stick with the formula that has taken them from the amateur Castle Regional League to the professional second tier in three seasons.

After they earned promotion to the NFD by winning the ABC Motsepe League play-offs in June, uThongathi have been on a steep administrative learning curve, conceded coach Ronnie Gabriel.

The native of the north coast town has put his transport business on hold to concentrate on the full-time job of planning for the club’s debut professional campaign.

Getting to grips with the league’s administrative rules, such as player contracts and securing a suitable home venue, have been the main challenge.

Already they are slightly on the back foot in having to give up home ground advantage at the Shaik Mohideen Stadium because the council facility failed to meet the league’s standards.

Instead they will play at KwaMashu’s Princess Magogo Stadium. Gabriel, the holder of a CAF A coaching licence, is optimistic about the step up.

“We started preparing immediately after the play-offs in terms of scouting, recruiting, pre-season planning, so from the technical side everything is in control. Our objective will be to sustain ourselves - we don’t want to aim too high and fail,” said Gabriel, who has been with the side since its birth three years ago.

“We know we have to raise the bar. We signed some quality players from the play-offs. Our philosophy is to go for players who are hungry, who will work hard and who have the aspiration to go to the PSL We want to give an opportunity to our youngsters to prove themselves, because some of them have been with us from the start of the club and have potential to grow.”

Players they will rely on this term include their captain, midfielder Siphamandla Mtolo, and fellow midfielder Celimphilo Ngema who was Player of the Tournament at the play-offs, while among the new faces there is a former Orlando Pirates youth midfielder, Sibusiso Mnguni.

The mission will be to maintain a higher level of tactical discipline, said Gabriel.

“The technical ability of players in a division is fairly equal, so it’s a matter of coaching them tactically. It’s more about making players believe in themselves and getting them to live as professionals.

"We have to help them realise this is a full-time job and that they have to watch their diet, nutrition, training and conditioning. Besides just coaching I believe it’s important to impart life skills and help them become better individuals.

"For a lot of our players this is a fairytale, so it’s important to get a psychologist or an expert on money matters, so that they learn how to save and manage their money,” said Gabriel.

The Mercury

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