/ 4 October 2013

Mosimane ups the ante at Downs

Pitso Mosimane needs to mould a whole squad of new players into a winning team.
Pitso Mosimane needs to mould a whole squad of new players into a winning team.

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane is a man with a point to prove. Fortunately, he happens to have a club with a budget, a squad and an appetite as huge as his ambitions.

After riding the contempt and derision of local football fans during the 23 months he was at the helm of the national team, culminating in the 1-1 draw against Ethiopia, his arrival at the ambitious Sundowns was met with messianic expectations.

It was not exactly an auspicious start. Sundowns did not make the top eight sides of the log and thus lost out on an opportunity to fight for the MTN8 trophy.

Although the top-eight competition has caused the league a stop-start that has affected the rhythm of the sides, Mosimane sees it as motivation for his and other sides that ended in the bottom eight.

"If we had done well, we would not be sitting. We would have been competing. We would have been playing on Saturday [in the final contested by Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates]," Mosimane told journalists this week.

With that seemingly innocuous remark, the man they called Jingles in his younger days threw down the gauntlet. As Sundowns see it, not competing in the cup finals is an injustice that must be corrected as soon as possible.

This should create a sense of foreboding for Bloemfontein Celtic, Sundowns' foes for the last 16 of the Telkom Knockout Cup. The fixture at the Kaizer Sebothelo Stadium on October 6 is a repeat of last year's final.

That night in December, Celtic won 1-0 thanks to Joel Mogorosi's strike.

Sundowns' trip down the N1 South will therefore be as much about Mosimane's personal and professional redemption as a coach and the club's quest to correct an historic injustice.

But the latter depends on whether any of the players that Mosimane will send out against Clinton Larsen's charges were with the club then. That is how much the side has changed in the off-season.

Of the players who were with Sundowns last season, only Aljé Schut, Hlompho Kekana and Teko Modise have enjoyed game time in the 2013-2014 season.

Mosimane gives two defences for the mass acquisition of players.

"We are building for five years, not now. We have to get the best talent as it becomes available. We cannot wait for the following year because it might not be [available] then."

Big and ambitious
For the other defence, he points to Orlando Pirates' run in the Champions League and in local competition – and particularly how Thabo Matlaba rose from the bench to replace Patrick Phungwayo and went on to score in the MTN8 final – as evidence of why big and ambitious clubs must have big and star-studded squads.

Mosimane is also under no illusion that the huge squad diminishes the levels of harmony in the dressing room. He confesses to not losing sleep over it, though.

"You guys say they are just signing players. I also thought so earlier; now I am in the space. I am in the team and I know the expectations."

Mosimane says he has used the squad's size to challenge the players to convince him that they can do better than those who make the first 11 or even squad 18.

"I have challenged the players to say to me: 'Coach, I am being sabotaged here. I am playing better than the other guy; why are you not playing me?' I'll say to the player, 'Let's look at the player in your position, show me you can do better'."

Against Celtic and with their 12th man on the stands, those who will make the team will have to outdo themselves and not just rely on the quality of the starting 11.

Working hard
​The competition for playing berths plus the fact that they are playing defending champions should obviate any chances of Sundowns players making too much of the 11th place the Bloemfontein side occupies on the log – as opposed to the second position that Downs occupy with the same number of points as leaders SuperSport United but with a game in hand.

"I expect the side to match Celtic when it comes to working hard. For the rest, our quality should see us through," he said, although admitting that his side is still unsettled.

"I admire the experience of coaches like [Mpumalanga Black Aces] Clive Barker, who signed more players than I did but already has a settled side. But we are getting there."

It is hard to say whether the media-savvy Mosimane's comments are genuine praise or an attempt to divert attention from his club's huge squad to Barker, who has also been on a shopping spree. One thing for sure is that Mosimane is determined to etch his name in the annals of local football much in the way that the long-in-the-tooth Barker has.

Spotted by the great Jomo Sono while still a schoolboy and while Sono was still at Pirates but contemplating buying Highlands Park, which would become Jomo Cosmos, Mosimane has always understood that he was destined for big things.

As a player who first introduced himself to the local football fraternity by scoring a hat-trick against Kaizer Chiefs at the Vosloorus Stadium in the mid-1980s, Mosimane was among the best of his generation and even went on to score for Bafana Bafana on his debut.

The jury is out though on whether he is the coach he says he is. Lifting the Telkom Knockout trophy could just go some way towards Jingles's quest for redemption.