JOHANNESBURG – Pitso Mosimane cut a regal figure at the Loftus Versfeld auditorium on Sunday night, sipping a cup of coffee that must have gone down well after he guided Mamelodi Sundowns to their third successive appearance in the group stage of the Caf Champions League.
This achievement is another feather in Mosimane’s cap.
The 53-year-old already boasts being the only South African coach to win the Champions League which led to him being named Coach of the Year at the Caf awards last year. Jingles’ success in the continent has seen him meet the continent’s finest on the pitch and in class after he was invited to Caf’s inaugural Pro License Course that was held in Morocco last week.
The course featured local Moroccan coaches and four special guests who came at the invitation of Caf president Ahmad Ahmad.
Those guests were three-time Africa Cup of Nations winner with Egypt - Hassan Shehata, 2016 African Nations Championship winner with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - Florent Ibenge, Aliou Cisse who will lead Senegal in the World Cup in Russia and Mosimane.
The course has eight modules and will be held during Fifa breaks.
“The difficult thing is that the course is in French,” Mosimane said. “You’ve got to imagine me in that class with everything in French.
“But because Kalusha (Bwalya) is the chairman of the portfolio together with Anthony Baffoe, they helped me and got me an interpreter. But it’s not the same. So basically in the class I don’t take part. But I have to survive. I went to Greece and I speak the language now. I will survive. It’s a big honour and a privilege to be recognised in such a space.”
Mosimane continued, “I never thought that I would be recognised outside the country. But I get respect there. It’s unbelievable. The North Africans now know about Sundowns. It’s humbling because who am I to be among those three coaches? I need to do better.
But I have the Champions League, the Caf Coach of the Year award and I went to the Fifa Club World Cup (so I am not completely out of place). Back home we still have a long way to go to understand African football. Out there, they treat us like Kings.”
The Brazilians went from Kings of Africa in 2016 to paupers the following year as they were knocked out in the quarterfinals by eventual winners Wydad Casablanca of Morocco. Sundowns are driven to make up for that disappointment by going all the way in this campaign. Tomorrow, after a draw in Cairo, they will know who they will face in the group stage.
If it was up to Mosimane they would avoid DRC giants TP Mazembe. But as Sundowns’ stature in the continent continues to grow, there are some teams who are also hoping that they don’t face the Brazilians this early in the competition. Mosimane understands that reaching the group stage for three successive years is no easy feat, but he has his sights on bigger targets than that.
“We have no excuses where we are at Sundowns. It’s important that we play Champions League and we go to the group stage. We have to. It’s a must. It’s a mission and vision of the club. The club has to go to the Champions League irrespective of what is happening locally. Yes that puts us under pressure because you have to play more games and a lot of travelling. It’s not easy.
You just have to look at the teams in the Champions League, only a handful of teams that went far last year and the year before are at the top of their league at home at this point in time. It’s only us, Esperance and Al-Ahly. Wydad, who won the Champions League, are struggling. It’s a handful of teams who for three years in a row are at the top of their domestic league and are going far in the Champions League.”
The only blow Sundowns suffered from going far in the Champions League last season was losing the league by just three points having gone toe-to-toe with Bidvest Wits for the better part of the season despite the Clever Boys having an easier schedule. This season is no different. Sundowns’ closest challengers in the league, second-placed Orlando Pirates, haven’t played continental football in the past two years and they are also out of the Nedbank Cup.
“We have to play Champions League no matter what and we have to win the local league,” Mosimane said. “That’s the level of a big team. We don’t have any excuses. We have to do it. You need to manage your programme. We are fighting in the league against well-rested teams. They play once a week, that’s why they are strong. We play after every three days.
Pirates haven’t recovered (since losing in the final of the 2015 Caf Confederation Cup). They are still coming. I think that next year they will play in the Champions League. We will see (how they will do) the year after (playing in the Champions League). What happened to them happened to SuperSport United, Wydad and Zesco United.
We just know how to manage this programme better.”