FILE - Trevor Phillips, Gordon Igesund and Afzal Khan during the 1996/1997 Castle Premiership football match between Manning Rangers and Orlando Pirates at Kings Park Stadium, Durban on 16 June 1997. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
FILE - Trevor Phillips, Gordon Igesund and Afzal Khan during the 1996/1997 Castle Premiership football match between Manning Rangers and Orlando Pirates at Kings Park Stadium, Durban on 16 June 1997. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Will SA ever have a coach capable of pulling off shock successes like Gordon Igesund did?

By Matshelane Mamabolo Time of article published Nov 1, 2021

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Johannesburg - David Notoane posted a picture on his Instagram account the other day to evoke two decades old memories that got me longing for a proper return to the football stadiums. Not that going back to covering matches now would be like it was back then when Notoane and Co were still playing.

But after nearly two years of not attending live matches, just being at the stadium would be welcome, hence I envied my colleagues who were able to attend Saturday’s MTN8 final between Cape Town City and Mamelodi Sundowns.

Unlike during our time though, those who were in Durban on Saturday would not have been on the pitch for post-match interviews with the winners. Damn they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the dressing rooms to witness the beer-spilling celebrations or sit for over an hour in there with the winning coach regaling them with the tale of how he masterminded his team’s success.

Notoane’s picture, of Santos celebrating their surprise 2001/2002 Castle Premiership success, really got me nostalgic. It left me wondering if we can ever have a coach capable of pulling off shock successes like Gordon Igesund did.

That he won the league title on four occasions should be common knowledge to every self-respecting local football fan. It was the fact that he was victorious while in charge of Santos, as well as Manning Rangers before them, that Igesund earned the status of a super coach in the domestic game.

Igesund, having also won the title with Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns while missing it by a whisker when in charge of Moroka Swallows is currently running an academy in Cape Town and has expressed joy at his venture, although he did intimate a longing to return to the big time. And why wouldn’t he when he thrived on the pressure cooker of elite league football.

I first encountered Igesund during the inaugural Premiership season in 1996 as a naïve cadet reporter for The Star and I can never forget how the shrewd coach once played me during a match against Swallows at Dobsonville Stadium.

Unlike now when clubs post their team sheets on social media and Whatsapp groups for media way before kick-off, we used to have to walk down to the dressing rooms to copy the line-ups into our notebooks from the sheets the clubs put up with tape on the doors.

I remember going to the Rangers dressing room a good half an hour before kick-off to get the team sheet, having already gotten the Swallows one. Igesund – no doubt seeing me for the young, naive and inexperienced journalist I was – charmingly told me he was yet to finalise his line-up but swiftly managed to ‘trick me’ into showing him the Swallows one. He proceeded to go into his dressing room and, after a few minutes’ chat with his team, brought me his line-up.

Only later did it dawn on me that he had hoodwinked me into showing him the opposition’s line-up and thus I’d helped him plan his own. I don’t remember what the result of that match was, but that marked the beginning of a fascinating relationship I got to have with the coach who later allowed me into his dressing room prior to a league match so I could do ‘an insider’ article.

That he was not given the national coaching job for the 2002 Fifa World Cup when Carlos Queiroz was fired following Bafana Bafana’s failure to win the Africa Cup of Nations in Mali that year was perhaps one of the national game’s biggest injustices.

I remember writing an article suggesting that Igesund was best suited to take us to Korea/Japan – the man having won back-to-back championships. But the South African Football Association (Safa) gave Jomo Sono the job, a move that led to my having a pretty unsavoury experience in Asia with members of that seriously bloated technical team. That is a story for a later column.

Igesund didn’t get that job and we all know what transpired in Korea/ Japan.

Proof that his earlier championship successes were no fluke was provided when he took over at Sundowns. I remember Igesund showing me his plan for the season – put up on a board with all the league’s 30 matches and his planned results for each of them. How Igesund won the league titles was to always focus on getting results against the teams he knew he could beat. He hardly worried about his main challengers for the championship.

“I can lose to Chiefs or Pirates,” he said back then. “But the key for me is to collect maximum points against the other teams. I know that the other title challengers will stumble along the way.”

And true to form, Igesund went on to win the championship that season with Sundowns.

Personally, it was the feat he achieved with a Swallows outfit that was generally ridiculed as ‘an old age home’ of sorts that catapulted the man into hero status.

Swallows had flirted with relegation for many seasons and Igesund came along and saved them. But he then went better, the man who had played his football in Austria daring to make the Birds followers dream of championship glory.

The 2011/12 season was arguably the most exciting for any Swallows fan in the Premiership era, Swallows having also finished runners-up in the 1993 season. I still have vivid memories of that final day of the season when Swallows took the title race down to the wire against Pirates – the two Soweto clubs playing their final matches of the season in Durban and Pietermaritzburg respectively – and the Birds needing the Buccaneers to slip up for them to win their maiden championship.

That didn’t happen though as Pirates beat Golden Arrows to render Swallows’ win at Maritzburg United hollow.

Disappointed as he was, Igesund still made time for a two-hour long chat at the Hilton Hotel in Hilton surrounded by his family. While broken at having come so close to yet another championship success, Igesund was happy to have given the Birds faithful reason to dream and believe their club can mix it up with the big guns.

When he eventually got the national coaching job, I felt it was a little too late in the day and the fact he did not have great success somewhat proved that could have been the case.

Granted Igesund’s teams didn’t play the best of football. But, as he liked to say, there’s no room for comment in the results column. History will always record him as one of the most successful club coaches in the Premiership thanks to his four league titles.

The discerning football follower though would have also realised that while Igesund was brilliant at winning the championship, he was particularly poor at developing young players – the man specialising in working with experienced campaigners.

Many times, the clubs he left needed rebuilding by the coach who took over after him.

Interesting then that he is currently working at a development academy, right? Could it be that he has finally realised his Achilles heel as a coach?

Whatever it is, there can be no denying that Igesund has left an indelible mark on the domestic elite league. David Notoane’s picture the other day attested to that.

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