It feels like it was just the other day. Really, it does. I guess memories are like that. And, yet, 27 years have passed. Last week, my former Santos teammate Notoane was appointed as South Africa’s national Under-23 coach, tasked with qualifying the team for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
As they always say – and it’s a truism I’ve come across in many spheres of life and sport – “good things happen to good guys”.
I couldn’t be happier for Notoane, who I regard as a really special human being. We developed a bond as players back then and became close friends - and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is the type of opportunity he has been craving. He’s worked hard to get where he is. Along the journey, there have been quite a few setbacks and many painful experiences – but, throughout the highs and lows, he’s held steadfast to the realisation of the dream. Now, as an officially appointed junior national team coach, Notoane can look back and say that all the hard work, all the sacrifice, was worth it.
But let’s just rewind a little more. Notoane was born in Atteridgeville, near Pretoria, and he’s always been a bit of go-getter. He arrived in the Mother City in 1989 and enrolled for a BSc degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), but his academic career was soon to take a back seat when football came calling.
Having starred for UWC’s football team in a friendly against Santos, then-coach Boebie Solomons and Santos captain Duncan Crowie were suitably impressed with the player’s performance against us, hence his arrival at training on that day in 1992. In fact, looking back at Notoane’s UWC days, an interesting aside is that his best mate as a student at the time was none other than the current vice-chancellor of that university: Tyrone Pretorius.
Santos were relegated in 1993, but the setback proved to be the catalyst for the meteoric rise to prominence of Notoane. He was absolutely brilliant in the Second Division - and it was on the back of his scintillating performances for Santos that we were promoted back to the top-flight for the 1997/98 season.
Notoane’s star would continue to shine in the PSL and he would eventually sign a contract with SuperSport United.
Throughout his playing career, though, Notoane the coach was always lurking - he got involved in team tactics, he gave suggestions, offered solutions and he was a fantastic team man. It was abundantly evident, even back then, that he would branch off into coaching. He always had an analytical approach to the game and, after the 90 minutes of action, irrespective of the result, he would critically take apart performances, both the team and his own as an individual.
For me, it’s therefore no surprise that his dream of being a national coach has finally come to fruition. Notoane has a deep passion for the game. He’s a thinker, a planner and the country’s Under-23 squad, the next generation of Bafana Bafana players are, no doubt, in good hands.
After retiring in 2004, Notoane rapidly set about equipping himself, with regard to both certification and experience, for the next phase of his career. He spent his formative coaching years at Santos with Mitchell’s Plain United (at the time Santos’ Reserve Team), then graduated to the Cape club’s first team, and later he also spent some time as Muhsin Ertugral’s assistant at Golden Arrows.
In 2015, he had a stint as the acting-coach of the SA U20 squad and, three years ago, he took on the position as Mamelodi Sundowns’ Reserve Team coach. Now, having earned his spurs, the big appointment he has always longed for has finally arrived. As the national U23 coach, Notoane is fully aware that he carries an enormous responsibility for the development and direction of the country’s most promising emerging talent.
But he refuses to get carried away - he knows he has a gargantuan task ahead. The SA Under-23s have been without a permanent coach for quite a while - the previous incumbent was Owen Da Gama, now coach of Highlands Park - and Notoane will have to quickly knit things together. His first challenge is near. The Under-23s tackle Angola over two legs (March 22 and 26) - it’s a qualifier for the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations, scheduled for Egypt in November. This event is, of course, crucial for Notoane and his team because the top three sides at the competition qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The most important first step is the qualifying process that we have to successfully negotiate,” said Notoane. “We have to get past Angola and then face the winners of the qualifier between Mozambique and Zimbabwe. If we do that, we will qualify for the Nations Cup.
“At the moment, we are analysing permutations and looking at the player pool we have available for the U-23s. We are looking at the recent U-17 and U-20 squads, as well as players who have performed well in the MDC (Reserve League), NFD (First Division) and the PSL. We have to find the right blend.
“At the same time, while we are preparing the squad for the Olympics, we also know that this is the pathway to Bafana Bafana. We have to give these boys a stage to build their experience and make sure that, going forward, they are ready to contribute to the senior national team.”
During his Santos years, Notoane was also a very close friend of the McCarthy brothers, Jerome and Benni. At the time, big brother Jerome was Notoane’s teammate at Santos and a 17-year-old Benni was at Seven Stars. Notoane vividly remembers a fixture between the two clubs around 1995.
“Benni was on his way to stardom and he gave us a helluva game that day,” said Notoane. “He scored twice and you could see his talent and ability - it was clear that he would be a hit overseas. For me, I was excited for him and his future because I regularly went to their house and was a close friend of the family. Now it has all come full circle - with Benni making great strides as a coach.”
Notoane, in fact, revealed that soon after McCarthy’s appointment as Cape Town City head coach in 2017, he got a call from his good friend.
“It was during the first year that Benni was in charge of City when he asked me to be his assistant-coach,” said Notoane. “I was tempted, but I was at Mamelodi Sundowns, and we all know the dollars and rands are a little tight in Cape Town. So I stayed in Pretoria - but I’m happy for Benni. What he’s done at City has been incredible.”
It may have been tough for Notoane to say no to McCarthy – but, in the end, it’s a decision that has worked out very well. Because, today, my former Santos teammate is South Africa’s national Under-23 head coach.@Reinerss11