Manqoba Mngqithi, assistant coach of Mamelodi Sundowns during the 2019 Telkom Knockout Mamelodi Sundowns media day at Chloorkop, Johannesburg, on 20 November 2019 Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Pinned against the wall by an eager press corps that was armed with probing questions on the club’s recent misfortunes, Mamelodi Sundowns’ assistant coach Manqoba Mngqithi looked calm and in control even though he literally had his back against the wall.

If his middle name wasn’t Brilliant, Calm would have been very appropriate in following up on Manqoba which loosely translates to the "victorious one". “Ngibanqobile (I have defeated them),” he bragged almost 13 minutes later to the club’s media officer after a stunned silence as the gathered press ran out of questions to ask him. He was honest, engaging and witty in his interaction with the media which he doesn’t do much as an assistant coach.

Instead, it’s the rabble-rousing coach Pitso Mosimane who handles the media in his own way. While Mosimane manipulates the media with his brash nature and mind games, Mngqithi bamboozles it with his intelligent and measured tone. Each and every word that comes from the former schoolteacher is measured and sounds important. He doesn’t have to do much to command respect, his conduct and accolade do that.

His personality and conduct make him and Mosimane a good yin and yang. They complete and complement each other well and they have mastered the good-cop, bad-cop act. While Mosimane shouts and is always ready for a fight, Mngqithi talks in a measured manner and douses fires.

Their personalities might be different, but their work ethic (exchanging emails in the late hours of the night and starting their days as early as 2am) and desire to win is the same. Mngqithi has revealed one of his desires at the club - to see Sundowns win all competitions on offer in a single season.

“To be honest, I can’t really point a finger on what it would take to win all four trophies in a season. I always believe every season that we have the capacity to win all four. We’ve had bad schedules in the past, with the CAF Champions League overlapping and not giving the team a chance to have a pre-season.

"This season we have had a better programme in terms of the team also getting a rest like other teams. But the congestion is still a little bit tough for us at times. Even now in December everyone else will be enjoying their break while we will be in Algeria overChristmas (taking on USM Alger in the group stage). But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t win these other cups because we are competing in the Champions League.”

Even though Sundowns have a squad good enough to win everything on offer in a season as Mngqithi claims, the side has done poorly in domestic competitions. Sundowns have won only two knockout competitions - the Telkom Knockout and Nedbank Cup in 2015 - under the technical team led by Mosimane and Mngqithi. It’s a poor return when you look at the fact that they have won four league titles since 2013 and have made the Champions League a staple diet in Pretoria having reached the group stage every season since lifting the continent’s premier club competition in 2016.

To see the pair at work on the bench is interesting. Mosimane hardly sits down, living every moment and every kick while Mngqithi wears an emotionless face but also living every touch. Even when he was the head coach, starting at Golden Arrows, Mngqithi was never the shouting type. He sat quietly, watched his team do their thing and only briefly stood up to share a few words.

As much as Abafana Bes’thende shaped him as a coach, he also shaped the club to be what it is today - especially their thriving academy.

Today will be an emotional return for Mngqithi in Sundowns’ Telkom Knockout semi-final clash with Arrows at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium. Two of his friends, coach Steve Komphela and assistant coach Mandla Ncikazi, will be plotting to beat Sundowns for a second successive match while Mngqithi and Mosimane will be looking to end the club’s slump by advancing to the final.

“People are taking Arrows for granted,” Mngqithi said. “They haven’t lost a game at home this season. Steve is doing a very good job there. They are playing some very good football. I haven’t seen Arrows play football like this in a very long time. Steve has confidence in these youngsters which is encouraging because most of the boys that are playing there ... when I started the under-10s at Arrows they were there.

“The (Siyabonga) Dubes, (Seth and Kaleb) Parusnath were in that group, the (Sibusiso) Sibekos and the (Nduduzo) Sibiyas. Those are the players I started Golden Arrows’ academy with, and it is encouraging when I see them going up to where they are. I left them when they were at under-15 if I am not mistaken.

"I know what they are capable of, and I have always believed they will need a coach who will nurture such talent. Steve has done a very good job. But it will never be enough up until he wins something with them. Whatever he is doing will be overshadowed by the fact that he hasn’t won a cup with them. But be that as it may, we must beat them.”

Mngqithi wore a massive grin when he uttered the last line. He knows very well what Arrows, on the verge of their second final appearance, are going through. Mngqithi took the club to their first and only cup triumph in 2009 when they hammered Ajax Cape Town 6-0 in the MTN8 final. That trophy meant a lot for him and the club. It allowed Mngqithi to not be part of the group of coaches whose contribution to the beautiful game is downplayed by them not having won a trophy. Komphela is one of those coaches.

“It’s unfortunate because our job is a very thankless one,” Mngqithi says. “Up until you can put something on the table people won’t respect you. I think that Steve has done a tremendous job in all the clubs he has worked at. At Bloemfontein Celtic he transformed a team that had so many challenges.

“At (Manning) Rangers he did exceptionally well. At Maritzburg (United) he put them in the top eight, and he really gave a good account of himself. At Kaizer Chiefs he stood firm and he was building towards a championship-winning team, but unfortunately in our society we only define success with something on top of the table and we don’t look at how many players have come through from that particular coach.

"There are many coaches who have won trophies, but they’ve never really introduced any new players into the game. They have never really promoted any young boy and made him a household name. Personally, I have a lot of respect for Steve and I believe that he has done a tremendous job. He has really given a good account of himself.”

So has Mngqithi, who has won every trophy on offer in African football. As a head coach he won the MTN8 and as an assistant he lifted the Champions League, CAF Super Cup, Telkom Knockout and Nedbank Cup.

The only thing missing for the 48-year-old is to bring all of that bounty to the table in one season.

Bonginkosi Ndadane