/ 5 October 2012

PSL: Local yokels strike back

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Johan Neeskens needs a win.
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Johan Neeskens needs a win.

If this Premier Soccer League season is still a puppy, it is a psychotic pooch. We are only six games in, but already two coaches – Manqoba Mngqithi and Maarten Stekelenburg – have been fired.

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Johan Neeskens has been told that only a victory against Platinum Stars on Saturday will secure his job and  Roger Palmgren at Amazulu is also hotly tipped for unemployment.

Downs fans want Pitso Mosimane to replace Neeskens and the former Bafana coach has long been eyed by club president Patrice Motsepe. But Mosimane is focusing on resolving his dispute with the South African Football Association over his dismissal – and is also reluctant to profit from a colleague's persecution by hooligans.

"I deplore the way Neeskens is being treated, irrespective of the fact that the fans have been chanting my name," Mosimane said this week. "It's not Sundowns management who are doing so, it's only the supporters. Clubs must take responsibility and not condone things like this. I've experienced it with Bafana – I know how it feels.

"I'm not a stop-gap coach. I've only coached two teams in 12 years. I've had PSL offers this year and refused them. I need to work for a team with a vision, who come to me with a five-year plan. And I don't want to work for a club who say they can't afford to compete in Africa. I want to win in Africa."

Cheaply assembled squads
Mosimane added: "If I found that vision, I would go back to coaching tomorrow. But there's life after football. Lots of coaches are no longer coaching and they are still alive."

Despite the woeful end to his Bafana tenure, Mosimane remains a sharp tactician with rich local experience and insight. Some jingoistic pundits have pointed out that most of the league's struggling clubs this year are coached by foreigners, whereas superior results are being achieved by many of their South African rivals.

Two local yokels are soaring with cheaply assembled squads: Steve Barker's University of Pretoria are lying second and Steve Komphela's Free State Stars are stealthily patrolling in third place. Six of the bottom eight sides in the standings are coached by foreigners, whereas six of the top eight sides are guided by South Africans.

Is local know-how biting back? Is this the beginning of the end of the invasion of big-name European tacticians lured by South Africa's 15 minutes of World Cup fame? Maybe. But one telling exception to the early trend is the imperious form of log-leading Kaizer Chiefs under Englishman Stuart Baxter. His dynamic, free-scoring side are now favourites to recapture the league trophy, which was last seen at Naturena seven years back. Saturday's clash against Clinton Larsen's improving Bloemfontein Celtic in Port Elizabeth will test the durability of their form.

Roger de Sa, the man in charge of defending champions Orlando Pirates, is not surprised by Amakhosi's storming start. "I expected that from Stuart – that he would get them so organised and work really hard with them in pre-season," he said. "I hope they don't get too far ahead of the pack. But remember, Downs were 12 points clear at one point last season. A lot can still happen."

He dismissed the "local is lekker" theory. "You need both foreign and local influences in our game. Some guys from abroad make it here and some don't. We need their ideas, just as they can learn things from working here."

Different culture
De Sa is relishing command of a heavyweight side for the first time in his long PSL career. "There's a different culture here, a real belief that we can win every game. And the players know how to win. I was very surprised to see there are no superstars at Bucs – everyone is very down to earth and hungry, despite having won everything."

Since taking over, De Sa has tightened Pirates' ship – although the loss to Bloemfontein Celtic last weekend exposed a worrying bluntness up front. "We're trying to play with more pace and apply higher pressure and the players have taken to it," said De Sa. "We want to play a bit more offensively and aggressively. But the injury to Benni McCarthy has left a vacuum up front."

Bucs must also be rueing their leisurely approach to off-season negotiations with Tokelo Rantie that allowed Swedish club Helsingborg to snap up the young striker. Rantie has plundered six goals in as many games in Sweden this season.

They could also use Aubrey Ngoma, who returned on loan to former club AmaTuks this term and plundered four goals against Ajax last weekend. Ahead of Sunday's clash with AmaTuks, the Sea Robbers have been duly warned of the threat posed by Ngoma and Mame Niang, the towering Senegalese striker on loan from SuperSport United.

De Sa has high praise for the meticulous Barker, nephew of Clive, who has spent four years preparing the university club for the big league. "Steve's done a great job: they play to their strengths and haven't promised the world, but they are second on the log. They've kept the same mentality and system as last season."

Such patience is the crux – and a much bigger variable than the passport in a coach's pocket. The common factor among the prospering South African coaches – Barker, Komphela, Gavin Hunt and Zeca Marques – is their job security and the continuity that allows. It is the key to sustained success.

Pirates have bucked that rule of late, winning trophies despite coaching upheaval. It will not be easy for De Sa to carve a niche at a club so addicted to success – and his outspoken, emotional nature makes a long tenure in the hottest seat of PSL football unlikely. But De Sa is not about to become a diplomat. "I can't be anybody else. If somebody is doing something wrong, I'll have a go at him. If I see a guy being mugged on the street, I will help that guy. Some people will let an oke shit on their head. I won't."