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Building a legacy in disloyal times

 

 

Pitso Mosimane is one of the greatest coaches to ever walk a South African touchline. There’s little debate at this point. With eight trophies, he’s certainly brought more success to Sundowns than anyone else. If he were to secure another PSL title, he would also stand alone on five league wins, leaving behind Ted Dumitru, Gordon Igesund and Gavin Hunt.

But that’s unlikely to happen this season. With the halfway mark coming into view, a resurgent Kaizer Chiefs have already pulled 10 points clear at the top and appear in no mood to hit the brakes.

From a Masandawana perspective it’s a disappointing start to what was supposed to be a toast to their 50th anniversary and is a blot on

the imperious run of form the club have been on in the last couple of years.

The funny thing about success is that the more you get, the more scrutiny you invite. Mosimane is no exception — uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Which brings us to this weekend’s clash against Maritzburg United in the Telkom Knockout final. Mosimane, usually so blasé about cup competitions, is arguably in great need of the win.

A mid-season trophy will bring a sense of progress to the team, as well as inject some much-needed morale and stability ahead of the challenges that the New Year will bring. It will also, if we’re being cynical, serve as a neat bargaining chip in the ongoing contract negotiations between club and manager.

Mosimane’s current term is up in June. He has made it clear that he would like to stay and would sign the next day should he be presented with acceptable terms.

It would also be his last stint if his latest statements this month are to be believed — he reckons coaching when he turns the ripe old age of 60 in five years time will be too much for him and he will step away at that time.

“I didn’t take offers from big teams in South Africa,” Mosimane said as he talked up his loyalty. “I didn’t take offers from big teams in Africa. I had an offer on the table from Qatar [with] more money than Sundowns. I stayed because I wanted to honour my contract. I stayed without looking at the money.”

The longer it takes for Mosimane to renew, however, the more column space there will be to ponder if he will at all. Or if, in fact, money is actually a stickler in the talks.

Coincidentally, this week shocked us into remembering why we should care how his discussions turn out. Orlando Pirates on Tuesday announced that German Josef Zinnbauer will take over as head coach, effectively bringing an end to the Rhulani Mokwena experiment.

Mokwena, who will return to his role as assistant, was a symbol to many people that it was possible to break into the PSL as a young, local tactician. Chairman Irvin Khoza’s decision to yank the cord is a return to normal service in an environment in which big brands are petrified of straying from proven names who carry a fat CV — and often a European passport.

Benni McCarthy is another local who lost his job this year. While it’s hard to argue that Cape Town City’s current form didn’t warrant that fate, the sacking brought an end to a reign that had similarly challenged conventional notions of what it takes to build a successful project.

As an unpredictable hothead, McCarthy guided an upstart City to successive finishes in the top five, as well as their maiden MTN8 Cup. The Bafana legend might not be to everyone’s taste, but his youthful combativeness made him hard to read and, to the benefit of the PSL, a helluva lot of fun to watch.

Mosimane may not share McCarthy or Mokwena’s youth, but he has helped to build the foundation on which they stand. He represents South African coaching excellence — something that should be celebrated regardless of allegiance.

On Saturday it will be up to him whether he adds to his legacy or, perhaps, puts a dent in it instead. With an end to the contract saga supposedly in sight, he can’t afford the Brazilians to slip back into the mire just as they’ve clawed their way out of it.

Sundowns have looked uncharacteristically lethargic this term. The observation is reflected in their goal tally, as the side has laboured to find the incisiveness that has fired them to so much success. It’s not unreasonable to think the team is suffering from a crisis of motivation: how do you keep pushing a luxurious squad that has won everything?

In either case, a number of injuries at key points in the season has not made anything easier. The absence of Gastón Sirino and Themba Zwane in particular left the forward line bereft of ideas during Sundowns’ dire, three-game winless spree and not looking much like champions at all.

If we’ve learned anything about “Jingles” over the years, however, we know he won’t be panicking. He’s built his reputation by thriving when the pressure begins to boil over and coming out with his hands raised in victory. Should he do that once again he may just keep his own legend going a little bit longer.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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