All Hail Matsatsantsa!
SuperSport United continue to represent South Africa with pride in the continent, as they are the only remaining representatives out of four participants. They have cemented a place in the final of the CAF Confederation Cup against Congo’s TP Mazembe next month.
The Tshwane-based outfit has adopted the responsibility to carry the country’s hopes on their shoulders since the end of the continental road for other campaigners such as Platinum Stars, Bidvest Wits and archrivals, Mamelodi Sundowns, respectively. While it must be said that both Wits and Dikwena’s short stints were disappointing, it has been really good to see the Tshwane teams taking these continental competitions so seriously. Had it not been for Sundowns’ dismal penalty shootout loss away to Wydad Casablanca, we’d probably be talking about the two Tshwane giants representing the country in the two continental cup competitions.
What cannot be denied, though, is the changing attitude of South African teams in the way they treat and view these competitions. Slowly but surely, we are starting to see our teams going all out to make a mark in these competitions, unlike in the past where they were happy to send a second-string team to represent them in the continent while focusing on domestic competitions.
That tainted the image of our football in the continent, as we struggled to even make the group stages. It started with Orlando Pirates sacrificing their domestic silverware success and giving their all, because of their commitment to the continental football. It came as no surprise when we earned four spots back in the CAF competitions, instead of just one South African team taking part in the Champions League and the other one in the Confederation Cup. The previous state of affairs was caused by the dismal performances of our teams in these Pan-African club competitions.
Fast forward to the last five seasons or so and you will see the difference in our attitude. The common denominator in that change has got to be the two former Bidvest Wits employees, Roger de Sa and Eric Tinkler. They have given everything to these competitions and even risked losing their jobs because travelling the length and breadth of the continent took its toll on their players and their domestic campaign was suffering as a result.
I have had long chats with both Eric and Roger about their crazy travelling for these games and just how difficult it is to cope, as you pretty much live out of a suitcase if you’re serious about continental football. For his part, Roger once jokingly mentioned that whenever he came back from these travels to other African countries with Orlando Pirates, his own dog would not recognise him, and start barking at him as he came home! To make things worse, you also have a hectic domestic programme to take into consideration. Only the brave will prioritise continental football, as the rest are too worried about protecting their jobs rather than doing well on the continent.
Sundowns’ coach, Pitso Mosimane’s name can’t be left out as he has also played a significant role in changing our teams’ attitude towards club continental tournaments. More and more teams now feel part of the continent rather than looking down on it. The fact that Mosimane even insisted on holding some of his pre-season camps in other African countries has increased the desire for his players to excel in the continent.
SuperSport are a team on a mission and they deserve everything coming their way. They have been consistently reaching cup finals and are now reaping the rewards of investing in their team, supporting their technical team and ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction. The team has managed to force themselves into the top teams’ bracket, yet they remain humble and go about their jobs quietly. They have been brave enough to replace experienced Stuart Baxter with young Tinkler but continued to accord Tinkler the same support they had for his successor, whereas sometimes the reputation or name of the coach precedes the respect and support they are going to receive from their team.
We need to celebrate and honour Matsatsantsa a Pitori by rallying behind them in the second leg of this much-anticipated Confed Cup final. I have no doubt in my mind that Tinkler is not going to come back from his second Confed Cup final with just another silver medal. Football gods aren’t that crazy and will surely reward him for his dedication and commitment to continental football and passion for the game.