Bloemfontein Celtic were given a shot in the arm on Wednesday when coach Owen da Gama announced that he would be staying to guide the club next season.
Said Da Gama: ”I have agreed in principle to stay on. The details have still to be worked out with management. But I am more than happy to get to grips with the unfinished business I started. There is a long road ahead but, with the right players signed in the off-season, we can put Celtic back on to the football map.”
Da Gama disclosed his first priority was the rebuild the club’s defence.
Da Gama pulled off an incredible feat by guiding Phunya Sele-Sele out of relegation and ensuring that he will be able to rebuild the shattered club he helped save.
Celtic avoided relegation despite losing 5-1 away to Free State Stars on the last day of the season last Saturday when their relegation rivals Thanda Royal Zulu managed only a 0-0 draw with Maritzburg United in their final fixture.
TRZ needed to beat United and will now go into the promotion/relegation playoffs which begin next weekend.
Da Gama admitted that the job of saving Celtic’s PSL status was ”one of the toughest of my coaching career. I knew it was going to be a tough task. It was hard and stressful but, at the end of the day, all that matters is that Celtic are safe and we will be rebuilding for the new season,” said the former Moroka Swallows coach.
Da Gama promised that as long as he stayed in charge he would ensure that such a bad season never happened to Celtic again. He has done a remarkable job. When he took charge in January, Celtic were bottom of the PSL log with 11 points from 11 matches having scored eight goals and conceded 17.
After 30 matches Celtic had scored 34 and conceded 38 goals.
Da Gama said that the signing on loan of strikers Gert Schalkwyk from Kaizer Chiefs, attacking midfielder Tlou Segolela and central defender Mario Booysen in January made the difference.
”It is not often that a coach gets the right players in the January transfer window. Most players are settled and few top players are keen to move in that period. But I was lucky with those three who all played a major role in our revival. I had few options but, fortunately, those I took worked. It was a question of making the best of a bad situation we found ourselves in.”
Da Gama said there would be no holiday period for him. He explained: ”I will be sitting down with club chairperson Jimmy Augousti soon to analyse the season. I need to strengthen the squad and Jimmy will be able to tell me what we can and cannot do. I have a tremendous working relationship with Jimmy and the club management and I am happy to take Celtic forward.
”My number-one priory for next season is strengthening the defence. We need quality defenders. I also need to bring down the average age of the squad which stands at 30 at present. I will look at quality and blend that with youth. But we will make sure the mistakes of last season are not repeated.
”The starting point is the defence. I believe Celtic have great potential with an incredible loyal fan base. But, as there is lots of work ahead for me, I will not be taking any holidays this season.” — Sapa