Hot Stars ready to put the Freese on Pirates
Looking at Platinum Stars coach Allan Freese's chubby cheeks and ample abdomen, it is hard to imagine him as that tiny midfielder for Eldorado Park-based Leicester City in the old days of the National Professional Soccer League in the early 1980s.
Overall, City's contribution to local football was unmemorable except that they once produced one of the upsets of the league by trouncing a star-studded Orlando Pirates 4-1 at the Eldorado Park stadium south of Johannesburg.
The side starred some of the most talented players of their generation such as the Market brothers – Lincoln, Tyron and Charles – plus Ndaba Ntsele, who is now one of South Africa's top businessmen and head of the Black Business Council.
Other players went on to become legends who starred for other teams, notably Gavin Easthorpe, who must rank as one of the best Moroka Swallows goalkeepers of all time.
Allan's little brother Howard became a Chiefs stalwart for most of his career there. But memories of Howard's contribution to the Chiefs cause faded as the player aged and, as they are wont to do, he was booed by the same fans who had once venerated him.
Having done enough to make a lasting impression on the Pirates procurements department, the team swiftly signed Allan Freese when City were relegated at the end of that season. He played alongside legends such as Jomo Sono and goalkeeper Patson “Kamuzu” Banda.
Despite being as stellar as he was during his few years in the black and white of his opponents this weekend, it would be a stretch to call him a Pirates legend.
So forgive Allan Freeze for believing that his side can go against the hype and humble the mighty Orlando Pirates in the MTN8 final on Saturday.
Having been part of it once, he will surely impress on his side that they have nothing to lose.
All the pressure must be on Pirates and their coach Roger de Sa, who must deliver a trophy to atone for the empty first season he had at the helm.
Unlike De Sa, Freese's demeanour and appearance is of a guy next door.
While De Sa is likely to take to the sidelines of the Moses Mabhida stadium in a suit and tie, one gets the feeling that Freese dresses in club colours to fulfil contractual obligations, otherwise he would be in what he wears when he is watering his garden.
His plain language, as opposed to the verbosity preferred by the likes of Steve Khompela, hides his many years of experience in the game as a player and as a coach.
And therein lies Stars's best weapon. Simplicity.
Their games, like their players and coach, are anything but glamorous. They have kept things simple and gone with the tried and tested formula of most successful sides, such as having a strong spine in the form of competent goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane, central defender Benson Mhlongo, central midfielder Issa Sarr and striker Siphelele Mthembu.
While it was Robert Ng'ambi's goals in the second leg of the semis that ensured Dikwena's Durban date, the key man for the side this season has been Senegalese international Sarr, signed from relegated Chippa United in the off season.
His willingness to do the dirty work has allowed the offensive-minded Botswana international Mogakolodi Ngele and Ng'ambi to venture forward with the assurance that someone has their back.
The trio's credentials will be tested to the limits by the experience and class of Pirates midfield of Oupa Manyisa and the ultra-cautious Lehlogonolo Masalesa playing behind the diamond shape of Daine Klate and Sifiso Myeni on the flanks and Kermit Erasmus and Lennox Bacela up front.
Whatever concerns there might have been about coach Cavin Johnson taking with him the will to win ethos at Stars, was swiftly dealt with. Stars have continued with the passing and possession game they played under Johnson, who is now at SuperSport United.
The losses of Thuso Phala and Enocent Mkhabela have been mitigated by the arrival of Sarr and the stepping up to the plate of Tintswalo Tshabalala.
An interesting duel could be between defenders Pirates left back Patrick Phungwayo and Stars right back Vuyo Mere. Both players are as solid at repelling attacks as they are at launching them. Both are excellent squarers of the ball and are often instrumental in their team's strikers making headlines.
Being a cup final, it tends to be about whose balls are big enough for the stage.
Freese might have an air of calmness about him but any team that reaches the final of a big tournament is bound to have some butterflies in its belly.
In that regard, Pirates have the edge over Stars. They have had to perform on the big stage for most of this season as the country's representatives in the African Champions League and know how to handle the butterflies.
Coming away unscathed against both Al Ahly and Kaizer Chiefs in 48 hours must surely give Pirates management and followers a belief that the glory days of the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons – when the club won trebles – were not over.
After spending easily 30 years away from the limelight that came with being a Pirates star, Moses Mabhida stadium might just be another venue for Freese to remind the Pirates faithful of that bitter afternoon about three decades ago.
Then again, it has been a long trip from Eldorado Park to Durban, and a lot has changed since that time.