JOHANNESBURG - It doesn't surprise SuperSport United coach Eric Tinkler that his former boss, Orlando Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza, holds him in high regard and wasn’t keen on losing him.
Khoza paid Tinkler, who is on the verge of taking a second team to the final of the Caf Confederation Cup, a glowing tribute and revealed that he begrudgingly accepted his resignation letter last year. Tinkler decided to jump ship after the Buccaneers hired Muhsin Ertugral which would have seen him return to being an assistant, a position he outgrew after taking Pirates to the Confederation Cup final in 2015. The 47-year-old coach opted instead to join the ambitious Cape Town City. He built a strong team and stunned the football order by finishing third in the league and winning the Telkom Knockout with the new PSL club.
“My relationship with the chairman has always been very, very strong,” Tinkler said. “It goes all the way back to my playing days at Bafana Bafana. I am very proud of what he has gone and said to the public. But I pride myself in that any club that I have represented or coached can never have a bad thing to say about me because of who I am as a person and how I apply myself as a professional. Nobody can ever point an accusing finger at me (and say that I didn’t give my all). It doesn’t surprise me that the chairman would say that.”
Khoza’s words and Tinkler’s accomplishments with City went a long way in proving his detractors wrong. Tinkler’s rise at the Buccaneers, having arrived there as Roger de Sa’s assistant, was met with a lot of scepticism with many arguing that the coach who holds a Uefa Pro License was out of his depth.
The argument was that he didn’t earn that promotion, he just happened to be at the right place at the right time, picking up the pieces after De Sa and Vladimir Vermezovic’s resignations. That thinking ignored the years the former Bafana anchorman spent earning his stripes. Tinkler got his first “coaching job” as an 18-year-old at Damelin before he served as an assistant at Wits and shaped the club’s academy.
“It was Jorge Lobo, who was a referee in the old NSL days and is now a match commissioner, who ignited the first spark. Lobo is also a school teacher. He is at Crawford now,” Tinkler said. “Then he was at Damelin. When he heard that I was coming there, he called me into his office and asked me to play for the college team. He wanted me to not only play for the team, but also coach them and select the team.
“I have always had people doubting my competency, since I was a youngster at the age of six when I started playing football. My father was a coach. The other players would say, ‘ah, he is only playing because his father is the coach’. I lived that throughout my life. To make matters worse, I am a redhead. I was constantly called ginger top, this and that. It never affected me. I focused on what I believed in and who I am.”
That self-confidence and thick-skin laid the foundation for the no-nonsense midfielder Tinkler was in a professional career that started at Wits, took him to Portugal, Italy and England before returning to the Clever Boys as a 35-year-old qualified coach in 2005. Tinkler did his coaching badges during his career which meant he never stopped being involved in football after turning professional. But he had to wait before he could practice as a coach after former Wits’ chief executive Dereck Blanckensee convinced him to join the club as a player and assistant coach.
Tinkler thought he finally got his coaching break when Boebie Solomons was dismissed in 2007. Wits’ management had other ideas however, giving him the job on an interim basis before he returned to being as assistant upon De Sa’s reappointment. That snub, as hurtful as it was then, helped Tinkler grow.
“I came in at a very difficult time after Boebie left. We weren’t getting the results. Slowly but surely the team was dropping into the relegation zone. I learned a lot about myself and who I wanted to be during that spell. Truth be told, that first experienced showed me that I wasn’t ready (to be the head coach). My approach was wrong. That was the learning curve. You don’t get that often. I was fortunate to get that opportunity and learn from it. I think that was key, possibly had it not gone the other way around, and I was offered the head coach job then, maybe I wouldn’t have achieved what I have achieved because I wouldn’t have recognised my mistakes or had the opportunity to remedy them,” Tinkler said.
Tomorrow night at Moses Mabhida Stadium, Tinkler will be in search of his second trophy in two seasons at the expense of his former team, City, in the MTN8 final. There’s also a crucial trip to Tunisia in the second leg of the Confederation Cup semi-finals to look forward to. Every accolade Tinkler has, he earned through hard work with nothing handed to him.
“That’s who I am. I have always believed in myself. I work hard. I know that because of what I achieved as a player. I wasn’t the most talented or the most skilful. But I achieved what I achieved through hard work and dedication. I’ve applied the same philosophy as a coach.”