JOHANNESBURG - Kaitano Tembo is well aware of the fact that the 2018/19 season is still very much in its infancy, but the SuperSport United coach says he can’t help but feel that reaching the MTN8 final on Saturday is a validation of his team’s character.
For the Zimbabwean tactician, watching on as his charges take on Cape Town City at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium will be about more than just winning his first cup final as a head coach.
It’s an unimaginable sense of pride for a side that came within a whisker of being relegated from the Premier Soccer League, only for their luck to turn and give them a chance to defend their top eight title on the last day of the previous campaign.
“I have tried to manage this squad as best as I can,” Tembo explained. “I trust these players and that is why I never thought about making a lot of changes when I took over because I knew what I had, the kind of players I have, and the amount of work they have put in. People don’t realise that the players were running on empty by the time we reached the final of the (CAF) Confederation Cup last year.”
The biggest casualty of that incredible continental cup run was then coach Eric Tinkler, who was forced to resign four months later with the poor performances only getting worse. To be truthful, Tembo didn’t bring a magic wand either.
Only due to the Ajax Cape Town and the Tendai Ndoro saga did SuperSport end up in the top half of the table as the Urban Warriors were docked points and punished for using a player who was never supposed to take to the pitch after he violated Fifa rules by joining a third club in one season.
“You know, when you lose a cup final like that, where you have put everything in it, it sort of deflates you. That is what happened last season to us," said Tembo. "But if you are looking at it from the outside you won’t be able to see that,” he added.
What he used to his advantage, setting him up to enjoy a decent start to this season and now just one game away from winning a trophy, was sharing those tough times with many of the players who are still around today.
“I am someone who has always been with them,” the coach said. “I had to travel with them 20 hours to Sudan and 20 more to come back (during the Confederation Cup). Sometimes we got stuck mid-air on the plane because we couldn’t land when we were going to Liberia... those were scary moments.
"But I was with them and I know what they went through. It was easy to take that and try and work with them. They were drained. My job was to try and revive that.”