Plenty of time for Rhulani Mokwena to bounce back
JOHANNESBURG - Rhulani Mokwena’s time at Orlando Pirates may have had its ups and downs during his three-year spell at the club, but he is content with his time there.
This week Mokwena returned to Mamelodi Sundowns to re-assume the duties of being assistant coach, having left the club in July 2017 to join rivals Pirates to be Micho Sredojvic's deputy.
But this was no ordinary move for Mokwena, considering he is the grandson of Eric “Scara” Sono, son of Julius “KK” Sono and nephew of Ephraim “Jomo” Sono - three family members who donned the famous Pirates jersey with distinction.
In their first season at the club, Mokwena and Sredojevic were faced with a tough ask, having to lift the team from the doldrums of despair after finishing the previous campaign 11th on the log.
The duo, however, marshalled their troops with aplomb as Pirates finished as runners-up for two successive seasons, while the third time was supposed to be their year to win it all. But that wasn’t to be.
Sredojevic resigned in the first month of the season, taking over the reins at Egyptian giants Zamalek SC, while Mokwena ascended to the throne on an interim basis.
However, that relay baton appeared to have been passed on too soon to Mokwena, who struggled to steer the Sea Robbers out of troubled waters - forcing the club management to bring on board the Josef Zinnbauer.
Mokwena didn’t take kindly to the demotion back to assistant coach and he was sent out on loan to Chippa United, where he held the head coach reins in a single match before coronavirus brought the season to a halt.
“He had a great time at Pirates. He was happy there. It was a big learning curve for him,” said Steve Kapeluschnik, Mokwena’s agent, insisting that there was no bad blood between his client and Pirates when his contract was not extended beyond June 30.
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— Mamelodi Sundowns FC (@Masandawana)
Given that Mokwena is still in his early 30s, some experts believe there’s still time for him to recover from the setbacks and add more to his technical and tactical acumen before becoming a head coach in top-flight football again.
This means that by the time Mokwena is a fully-fledged coach, having continued with his progress under Pitso Mosimane and Manqoba Mnqithi at Sundowns, he could return to Pirates to finish the family project.
"He’s a young guy. You can never say that he’s served and done (at Pirates). You can’t use that kind of language at the moment. He went to Pirates and that was a learning curve and now he’s focusing on his next chapter at Sundowns,” Kapeluschnik added.
Mokwena was expected to re-start his chapter at Sundowns on Wednesday, joining the rest of the team in Rustenburg where they are preparing for the resumption of the season.
Having already won the Telkom Knockout in December, the Brazilians could still bag a domestic treble as they are second on the Premiership log standings and in the semi-finals of the Nedbank Cup.
Given that club president Patrice Motsepe wants another CAF Champions League gold medal in the next few years, Mokwena will be key in re-igniting the success of 2016.