OHANNESBURG – Whatever the reasons for SuperSport United’s poor form last season, be it an unhappy dressing room or senior players who had fallen out of favour with then coach Eric Tinkler, it appears Kaitano Tembo has gotten them over that hump.
Tembo has more charm and the ability to win players over - the two characteristics Tinkler unfortunately did not possess.
It’s early days yet, but the man who was finally put in the hot seat on a permanent basis, having been a long servant of the club in several behind-the-scenes roles as well as being an assistant coach, looks comfortable.
Their Absa Premiership opener, a 2-0 defeat away to Cape Town City at the beginning of this month, had all of us fear the worst for Tembo.
The ink on his two-year contract had barely dried when Matsatsantsa succumbed to Benni McCarthy’s team in a performance that was almost identical to the ones that led to them flirting with the prospect of relegation back in May.
Tembo had many worried, maybe even his bosses who had stuck their neck out for one of their own by ignoring the mail man who was delivering a handful of CVs for potential candidates for the vacant job.
Tinkler resigned in March following a spell of poor results, leaving Tembo temporarily in charge for the rest of the season.
On the evidence of how lacklustre SuperSport were each time they made it onto the pitch, it seemed there was absolutely no way Tembo would be asked to stay on permanently.
But the former defender has helped the team bounce back from the City setback to win three of their last four matches, all of them in impressive fashion.
It’s not a lot - certainly not worth a swing on the chandeliers. But this is significant for a man who has always either been overlooked for the job or believed to have told management that he is not ready to be their head coach.
Tembo credits Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter for shaping him into the tactician that he is today, and that is no surprise considering that since the departure of Gavin Hunt five years ago, SuperSport have only really looked like championship material in the one-and-a-half years that the Scotsman was at the helm.
But there are many others who can, and should, claim some recognition for Tembo’s rise to the club’s hot seat, coaches like Bruce Grobbelaar and Pitso Mosimane, who were at some stage in charge of SuperSport during the Zimbabwean’s playing days.
Tembo has also earned the respect of his dressing room, not least senior players Morgan Gould, Clayton Daniels, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Thuso Phala and captain Dean Furman.
Not a single interview goes by without any of them mentioning the fact that they feel the coach is one of their own - an ex-player who knows the culture of the club.
Tinkler, too, was a great player, but maybe he just couldn’t win over these big figures.
The season is long and there will be bumps and bruises, but Tembo can take it on the chin.