Sandile Zungu aims to awaken football’s sleeping giant in Usuthu
DURBAN - Umlazi born business tycoon Sandile Zungu is on a mission to transform AmaZulu into the best football club in South Africa. Zungu, 53, officially acquired the KwaZulu-Natal club in October from former long-time owner Dr Patrick Sokhela.
It is safe to say that AmaZulu and other KwaZulu-Natal football clubs have underachieved in the Premier Soccer League era, to the extent they have hardly been feared by any of the big-guns of South African football. Usuthu have not won a major tournament since it claimed the Coca-Cola Cup (now Telkom Knockout) in 1992.
Zungu, who is a teetotaller, certainly does not fit the profile of the average soccer club owner in South Africa.
Besides being the chairperson of the Zungu Investments Company, he boasts a BSc Mechanical Engineering degree and a Masters’ degree in business Administration (MBA) from the University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business.
Though he has a background in science, he said business is his calling.
“After I completed my engineering degree in 1988, I worked for six years as an engineer and realised that it was not my first love. I was doing the work, but did not have the bug biting me. I studied further and did my MBA. A year after my MBA, I was in business. Four years later, I started Zungu Investments Company and have never looked back. I found my first love,” said Zungu, whose all-time favourite footballers include Jomo Sono and Diego Maradona.
Zungu is also the president of the Black Business Council and admits that the world of business is not always smooth sailing.
“For every success that I have had in business, I have had three failures. You get better in the next attempt. With every deal I do, I get better at the next one. Experience cannot be paid for. You have to get onto the battlefield and experience it. My experiences have sharpened the science of entrepreneurship and the science of doing business,” said Zungu, who grew up supporting Soweto giants Orlando Pirates and English club Arsenal.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the financial difficulties of football clubs around the world. Several football clubs in the country were on sale. Despite this, Zungu says Usuthu was the only team that interested him.
“I was made aware of other clubs for sale, some which have changed hands and others which have not, each time I said no. I was quite clear that if I failed in concluding the acquisition of AmaZulu, I would have waited.
“This is the first time that I’ve turned my back on Orlando Pirates and my heart is now focused on AmaZulu,” joked Zungu.
He has already taken action to transform the club which is the oldest current team in the DStv Premiership, having been formed in 1932. The club’s recent transfer market activity was arguably its best in the PSL era. Star names who joined the Jonsson Kings Park Stadium-based club ahead of this season include Xola Mlambo, Thembela Sikhakhane, Augustine Mulenga, Luyuvo Memela, Siphelele Mthembu and Bafana Bafana legend Siphiwe Tshabalala.
Thirty six-year-old Ayanda Dlamini, who was one of the best servants of Usuthu as a player in the modern era, has been set a target of coaching the club to a top four finish in the DStv Premiership this season.
Dlamini, who is one of the youngest coaches ever to lead a side in the local Premiership, proved his pedigree by helping the club avoid relegation last season, following a good run of results in the bio-bubble earlier this year.
“I subscribe to the philosophy that you should support your coach. He should have the authority to identify the players to complete the squad and make him win so that he can fulfil the set objectives. None of the players have been brought into the team without the blessing of the coach. We think we have what we need to compete this season. We had to dig deep into our pockets. They were not inexpensive players, but we must show them respect. If the market says that they are worth a high salary, do not begrudge them their salary. Instead, pay them what they are worth and expect them to deliver,” he said.
Since the inception of the South African top-flight, the league has been dominated by teams from Gauteng – particularly Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. Zungu is on a mission to change this.
“Because of poor administration and not being able to compete for talent, the track record of KwaZulu-Natal teams has been poor. They lose in finals or don’t make it there. That has an impact on the supporters. The supporters turn their backs on the KZN teams. Most soccer lovers in KZN support Gauteng teams. That has got to change. That is why we have taken our investment in soccer more seriously than people would have expected. AmaZulu is a sleeping giant. Our supporters have been quiet, and they have been waiting to come out in droves. We have a huge base to unlock our supporters. We just have to make them happy and they will come out in their numbers,” said Zungu.
1. If there is one thing in football you could change, what would it be?
“I would make the five substitutions per match rule a permanent fixture.”
2. Who gets your vote as the best footballer to have ever lived?
“It is a difficult question. It is between Pele, Maradona and Messi.”
3. What other sports do you enjoy?
“I enjoy tennis, golf and motorsport. Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton have done a world of wonders for those sports. I also enjoy boxing.”
4. What do you regard as the best goal that you’ve ever seen?
“I've seen some great goals locally and in Europe. It is very difficult to single one out.”
5. What is the meal that you enjoy above all others?
“I enjoy oxtail, especially if it is nicely cooked with steam bread. It really makes me look forward to winter.”