Mokwena’s Klopp and Pep comparisons offside

Coach Rulani Mokwena guided Mamelodi Sundowns to a record seventh consecutive Premiership title, his fourth at the club. | BackpagePix

Coach Rulani Mokwena guided Mamelodi Sundowns to a record seventh consecutive Premiership title, his fourth at the club. | BackpagePix

Published Jun 4, 2024



At the age of 37, Mamelodi Sundowns’ Rulani Mokwena is a relatively young head coach, and there are pointers that he is succumbing to the intense pressure that comes with the territory.

Older managers, given more years of experience, cope better with levels of expectation, which vary according to the club’s profile. Locally, Sundowns have far and away the biggest profile in the country and with each passing season, for at least the past seven of them, that profile has ballooned, and for good reason.

For two weeks in a row, Mokwena has had to deal with the pain of losing matches which were of great significance. In both cases, Sundowns were expected to win.

On Saturday, Mokwena’s star-studded side lost to Orlando Pirates in the Nedbank Cup final, a week after Cape Town City won their final round DStv Premiership match 1-0 in Sundowns’ backyard, ending the Brazilians’ dream of an ‘Invicibles’ season.

Those were painful defeats and on Saturday, Mokwena, speaking at the Nedbank Cup final post-match presser, said these losses left him with scars.

However, a few days earlier, Mokwena bared his soul to the media and said he was not given the same appreciation Jurgen Klopp had received while at Liverpool. Since Klopp has stepped down as Liverpool’s coach, some members of the media corps thought Mokwena was about to announce his resignation as the Pretoria-based club’s head coach.

But this was not the case, and to further illustrate his point he later added the name of the celebrated Pep Guardiola to his explanation.

Mokwena said: “Klopp has won the English Premier League once, the Champions League once, but he stayed eight years. And Klopp’s parting shot was, ‘I left and I felt appreciated from the beginning to the absolute end’.”

Last season, Mokwena was also at pains to play down criticisms after declaring that Sundowns’ players were so good that they could easily play without a coach.

For whatever reason, Sundowns’ defeats have ramped up Mokwena’s feeling of uncertainty, and this has caused him to think about his future. That feeling is in order because there is a distinct lack of job security in South African football, and as a result, there has been a spate of top-flight departures this season.

Sundowns also have major African ambitions that have not been fulfilled since Masandawana won the Champions League in 2016. This phenomenon also caused Mokwena to think about Guardiola, who has also spent eight seasons at City.

He said: “I would love to stay at Sundowns for eight, nine years and do a Pep and a Klopp.

“The truth is I’m going to have to go through one or two seasons without winning the Champions League. I will go one or two seasons without winning the league. I’m unsure what the reaction will be if I go another season without winning the Champions League.”

Nevertheless, these comparisons are odious.

The expensively assembled teams of Guardiola and Klopp are not a monopoly of the best players in their domestic leagues. Mokwena’s Sundowns team, although also expensive, arguably is, as shown by the club’s superiority in domestic competition underlined by the runaway 23-point winning margin in the league.

Sundowns have reduced the Premiership to a one-horse race, which is something that Guardiola and Klopp will never achieve because of the overall quality in the Premier League.

Admittedly, coaching is a tough gig, but Mokwena has only ever coached the best club with the best players in South Africa, while Klopp and Guardiola’s successes are far more varied.

Mokwena might think he can compare himself to them but truth be told, he still has much to learn and many more heartaches to endure.