/ 28 September 2016

‘Downs’ coach is realising the goal he set out for Bafana

Pitso Mosimane celebrates during the Absa Premiership match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Platinum Stars at Lucas Moripe Stadium in May.
Pitso Mosimane celebrates during the Absa Premiership match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Platinum Stars at Lucas Moripe Stadium in May.

When I was 12 years old, my father unloaded a pile of books on me, which a librarian at the local mobile library was kind enough to give to him. One of them contained Latin phrases and their English translations. It took me about two days of thumbing through these to settle on one that would become my credo. Dum spiro spero – while I breathe I hope. The motto of an eternal optimist, I thought, at age 12.

Twenty-six years later reality is yet to prove this credo wrong. In fact, friends and long-time colleagues call me Spiro without knowing the full story.

One has to wonder whether, in the 52 years of Pitso Mosimane’s life, he too imbibed a book of idioms. Perhaps it was a collection of English playwright John Heywood’s aphorisms, who was famous for coining phrases such as “out of sight, out of mind” and “the more the merrier”.

One of Heywood’s sayings has certainly become the motto of Mosimane as a professional football coach. In 2012, following a 2-1 loss to neighbours Zimbabwe, the then coach of Bafana Bafana appealed for calm and faith in his plans for the national team. After all, he told the assembled media: “Rome was not built in a day.”

Mosimane was convinced that he was building a team for the future and one that could conquer the continent during the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), which South Africa qualified to host, thanks to the political turmoil in Libya.

But a nation of football lovers grew tired of building for the future. It was as if South Africa could not forgive Mosimane for the mess that was the 2012 Afcon qualifying campaign. It ended with Mosimane leading a unit that misread the rules and played for a draw against Sierra Leone when only a win was good enough to qualify. The footage of Siphiwe Tshabalala leading the “diski dance of shame” at the Mbombela stadium became the Bafana mentor’s audiovisual epitaph.

What not many people have picked up on is that, only six months after being fired as Bafana’s mentor, Mosimane used the same phrase when he walked through the doors of Chloorkop as the new coach of Mamelodi Sundowns. His appointment came after Dutch coach Johan Neeskens led Kabo Yellow to the foot end of the Premier Soccer League table. With the same media contingent present when he first uttered the saying, Mosimane exclaimed: “I need time to turn things in the team around. Rome was not built in one day and, if you look at the last five years, it has been a little bit difficult for ’Downs.”

Four years have passed since Mosimane accepted the appointment to one of the toughest jobs in local football. Success came only in his second season in charge when Sundowns won the league title. Bafana ba Style repeated the feat last season and along the way also won the Nedbank and Telkom Cup titles.

On October 15, Sundowns play Egyptian giants Zamalek in the first leg final of the Africa Champions League. A week later, the second leg will take place in the shadow of the pyramids.

Mosimane will probably be the first to admit that his Rome is still being built but this football emperor is finally on the verge of conquering Africa. To quote another saying attributed to Heywood: “Better late than never.”

Udo Carelse is a seasoned sports journalist who has reported for SuperSport, the SABC and Radio 702