JOHANNESBURG - The brains behind last season’s Cinderella story is confident that he can continue the fairy-tale and push back the clock from striking midnight. Luc Eymael masterminded Free State Stars’ transformation from perennial relegation candidates to champions of the country’s premier knockout cup competition - the Nedbank Cup.
It was Stars’ first major title since 1994. Can Ea Lla Koto, who were on the verge of being sold at one point, maintain last season’s good run or do better now that more eyes are on them and they’ll be in the Caf Confederation Cup for the first time?
“I know it’s not easy to repeat what we have done. To achieve what we did was already difficult. To repeat it will be 10 times more difficult. But we will try to do it," Eymael said. "We have a tough start to the season. We’ll play (Kaizer) Chiefs in the MTN8 and then go to AmaZulu. We will try to start well in the league. It’s better to get points early. We will see how we manage the season because we have to play in the MTN8, the league, Telkom Knockout, Nedbank Cup and then the Confederation Cup at the end of November. We will try to rotate the team.”
What’s more remarkable about last season’s success is that Eymael didn’t have a pre-season with Ea Lla Koto, he was thrown into the deep end after the sacking of Sammy Troughton just two matches into the season. His immediate challenge was to save the club from relegation. He did much more than that.
“The foundation is there,” Eymael said. “What’s key is maintaining the stability that we have. Some journalists and some people were saying I was arrogant when I said that if nothing happens during my own holidays, before June 12, I will come back to Free State Stars. People were saying I was giving teams an ultimatum. It wasn’t that. It was just a matter of keeping my words because I made a promise to (Stars’ general manager) Rantsi (Mokoena). I told Rantsi that I don’t want to let you down, if something happens it must happen before June 12. I came back because that was important to me.”
Later this year Eymael will take Stars to their first involvement in continental football. But that’s nothing new for the Belgian who has managed teams in the Caf Champions League and Confederation Cup in his time in Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. He reached the Champions League semifinals with Al-Merreikh in 2014.
“We will try to do our best,” Eymael said. “But the most important thing is to start well in the league. We don’t want to fall into the situation that SuperSport (United) found themselves in (fighting to avoid relegation after reaching the final of the Confederation Cup) because that becomes embarrassing.”