This week, not for the first time, Pitso Mosimane compared the Sundowns experience to the Comrades Marathon. His challenge was different to rivals such as Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs he said — whose races were more of a half-marathon. With a long road ahead and big picture in mind, how he paced his team was a far greater consideration for him.
Yet, looking beyond the back-handed metaphors, the idea of the Amakhosi lifting the PSL trophy —an idea that is crystallising — looks to increasingly irk him. Despite qualifying for the next round of the CAF Champions League last weekend with a convenient two games to spare, a set-back against SuperSport United on Sunday will serve a deep cut to his aspirations.
On face value that’s an idea he would reject. Not only because the season is yet to mature but because the broader mission is always in sight.
“We also have to understand that the CAF game was the biggest,” he said from Chloorkop this week. “Bigger than Pirates and the Nedbank Cup, let’s be honest. You know where it puts you … We have said that we want to be a team that’s ranked on the world club rankings. So you can’t get those points if you’re going to complain.”
Here’s the thing about Mosimane: he is obsessed with making a global impact. He cherishes the recognition the club receives from independent sites such as Football World Rankings — where the Brazillians have now breached the global top 50.
Even his language is couched in an international framework. Anyone who’s attended a Sundowns presser will know that “Jingles” often uses European examples to make his point. Usually the English Premier League, but often Barcelona too — a side he has maintained a clear admiration for. In this conversation alone he has compared Pirates’ recent goalscoring form to Manchester City; Chief’s league success to Leicester City’s non-European commitments; and Rhulani Mokwena’s supposed borrowing of his tactics to Mikel Arteta using Pep Guardiola strategies at Arsenal.
It would be easy for an amateur psychologist — and among football writers it is a pseudo-profession not in short supply — to deduce that Mosimane craves to be in that company. He wants Sundowns to make the biggest teams turn their heads in recognition.
But perhaps it goes a little bit deeper than that. There’s a reason the continentally successful coach could never let go of local football.
“I have my legacy that I have to fight for,” he says. “People take it personally but I’m not like that … I’m highly, highly competitive when it comes to winning a match … I must write my own history and fight with the two Germans.”
The Germans he’s referring to are Chief’s Ernst Middendorp and new Buccaneer boss Josef Zinnbauer.
“It’s not easy, it’s tough for me,” Mosimane continues.
“They come from privileged situations of coaching the biggest teams — Middendorp coached a team in the Bundesliga. This guy [Zinnbauer] also coached in the Bundesliga. Who have I coached? SuperSport United! I haven’t coached anybody else. My pride is also there for my local coaches to say we can do something with our Safa level 1s and 2s. They have Uefa A, B licences. Ten years ago they were studying in the same classes as Jürgen Klopp. Where was I? I was coaching in Soweto.”
Mosimane has long been considered a bastion of South African coaching excellence so it comes as little surprise that the man, known for speaking his mind, should view his work as essential in the battle to restore pride in our own tacticians.
That’s the interesting dichotomy of his appetite. He might view his mission for global recognition as righteous; he would even use it to deride the efforts of his league rivals. But when it comes down to it there’s unfinished work to be done on our own shores.
That begins with a crucial Tshwane Derby on Sunday, which is about as local as it gets. The war remains on the home front.