Technical director. It sounds like an innocuous job, referring usually to the person at a football club who is responsible for outlining coaching programmes. Technical directors are there to assist football managers and head coaches. But in South Africa the position seems to be more of a curse than a blessing.
If history teaches us anything, it is that the appointment of a technical director in this country suggests that a manager’s days are numbered.
Clubs have played into this notion by hiring technical directors during a poor run of form, only to replace the coach later with the technical director.
So strong is the negative perception of the technical director that, last week, Benson Mhlongo put himself on sabbatical after hearing that his club — National First Division side TS Sporting — was appointing Samuel Troughton as its technical director.
Mhlongo’s decision was criticised by TS Sporting and his absence was describes as a “shock because it was unexpected and is something that we were not prepared for”. In a statement, the club said they were hoping Mhlongo would consider working with Troughton, a former Mpumalanga Black Aces coach.
Mhlongo, a former Bivest Wits, Orlando Pirates and Bafana Bafana midfield strongman, joined TS Sporting last year from Pirates, where he was an assistant coach.
Both the decision by the club to chase Troughton and Mhlongo’s subsequent threat to resign left tongues wagging, especially as TS Sporting’s performances have been anything but poor. The club is second in the league, with 22 points after 12 matches.
Retired former Kaizer Chiefs top goal-scorer Pollen Ndlanya says that, in his experience, technical directors have “no hand” in coaching. “As far as I understand, the coaching staff give him the report and they sit and analyse games together. But he’s not the coach. He gives advice after the games according to the report he receives from the head coach, but nothing more than that.”
Nonetheless, technical directors seem to strike fear in the hearts of coaches and managers.
Two weeks ago, newly promoted Absa Premiership side Black Leopards surprised football fans after sacking coach Joel Masutha, the man who masterminded their promotion back to the big leagues.
At the time, Leopards were in the 14th spot of the table with Maritzburg United and Baroka FC below them. And with nine points at their disposal, it was going to take them just one win to be clear off the relegation mix.
But more than the sacking, it was Masutha’s revelation just after he was fired that sent shock waves. He told a football publication that he “knew that my days were numbered” after the club hired Englishman Dylan Kerr as technical director, three months before he was shown the door.
Masutha says the decision to bring in Kerr was never discussed with him; he was told “randomly” that this would happen.
Masutha got more than he had bargained for when Kerr rocked up at training one morning and told him that he would now be conducting some of the training sessions and had “powers to do so”.
Kerr has since been officially confirmed as the Leopards coach.
Leopards’ general manager, Tshifhiwa Thidiela, denies setting up Masutha, and says Kerr was initially hired to give the club some “uniformity”.
In 2015, when Steve Komphela took over as coach of Chiefs, rumours quickly emerged that he had refused to work with former midfield maestro Doctor Khumalo as either his technical director or assistant coach. Shortly after this, Khumalo left Chiefs to become the technical director at Baroka. Maybe Komphela understood the power of the curse.
The move by the Limpopo side was believed to be an attempt to get rid of coach Kgoloko Thobejane. But, in the face of public pressure, he survived the chop.
Thobejane, perhaps, is the exception to the rule.