All four regular readers of this column (just joking!) will know that we are all about engagement in discussions that will evoke emotion, whether you agree with me or not. We are all about getting people to think and talk while we keep to our obligation to educate, inform and entertain.
Whenever there are issues to be addressed, we waste no opportunity to do so – even if it means veering away from the original plan of action. As such, there are a couple of people who reached out to me about the walkie-talkie they recently spotted in the Orlando Pirates technical area. Some have even shared a screenshot of Pirates assistant coach, Fadlu Davids, talking on the walkie-talkie, with head coach Josef Zinnbauer looking on and possibly listening to what was purported to be an instruction from someone above them. Some have even asked, “Who is really coaching Pirates?” This has gone on to even suggest that the technical team has no say when it comes to team selection and decision-making, with someone else calling the shots. Why is there a walkie-talkie in the Bucs technical area?
Before I go any further, let me put a disclaimer that I hold no brief for anyone and subscribe to telling it like it is. Most of the people I was in contact with, regarding this walkie-talkie issue, already have an idea of who they believe is behind the use of a walkie-talkie by the Pirates technical team. To be honest with you, this came as no surprise because whenever there are problems, the easiest way out is to look for a scapegoat. I can tell you, without even checking with the Pirates office, that none of the Bucs supporters making claims about this walkie-talkie have actually taken it upon themselves to phone their club’s office to enquire about the issue. Secondly, none of those supporters would have done any research on the use of this gadget in order to verify their allegations or suspicions.
I’m saying all of this based on what I have observed. Just because you don’t see a walkie-talkie in the technical area doesn’t mean there’s no communication flow between the technical team and people sitting up in the stands. I know you’re too curious to know about “people sitting up in the stands,” and it is unfortunate that I’m going to disappoint you because I know what you’re thinking. It is definitely not where I’m going with this. I’m talking about the technical team members who, due to space constraints, can’t be accommodated in the technical area. The technical team isn’t just the head coach, assistant, doctor and the physio. The people sitting up stairs I was referring to are the team’s video analysts, who are very important to the head coaches. They are usually seated in the media tribune, where they get a better view of the game than the coaches who are sitting on the bench. That’s why coaches sit on the stands most of the time when playing friendly or practice matches. There’s absolutely nothing new with communication between the bench and analysts. What is new is the walkie-talkie which, by the way, was approved by FIFA and that’s why coaches can even use tablets on the bench, although there are restrictions when it comes to the footage and data they can use. Real-time data is now available to the technical team and that’s a huge benefit and can only improve the game.
December 20, 2018, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was the venue, when Baroka FC beat Pirates 3-2 on penalties, after a 2-2 draw after extra time, in the final of the Telkom Knockout. Coach Milutin Sredojevic, ably assisted by coach Rhulani Mokwena, was leading Pirates and there was a ‘messenger’ within the technical team that would be communicating with someone on what looked to be a mic and an earpiece from time to time and then go relay the message to the two coaches. This, obviously and naturally, intrigued me. True to my profession, I started doing some ‘investigation’ and eventually discovered that the communication was not with the usual suspects. It was actually with the team’s (three) video analysts who happened to be sitting a couple of rows from where I was. Can you see that this thing has been going on for years but some have just noticed it now? Communication with the technical team is a worldwide phenomenon and nothing new in the game. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Some prefer not to do it immediately, unless it is necessary, and wait for half-time to give their analysts time to address the team.
The game has evolved and demands more, which is why teams are going out of their way to reinforce their technical teams. Gone are the days where a team will only have one assistant coach and when the head coach gets fired halfway through the season, the assistant holds the fort for the remainder of the season without anyone else helping him. The more eyes you have, the better. Football has become so tactical and technical that you need to keep up or you’ll be left behind. There are teams that will change their formations three times in a game and you won’t even notice that with a naked eye. To counter such, you need more pairs of eyes and, once again, that’s exactly why technical teams are getting bigger and stronger.
It is not always about interference but complementing one another. There’s a lot that gets communicated during the game but, watching on television, you will not see it. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for people to take off their rose-colored glasses when they look at Pirates and start imagining things. I know Floyd Mbele and Screamer Tshabalala are accused, by some, of being the ones behind the walkie-talkie but, funny enough, every time the TV cameramen – who seem to follow the two wherever they go – focus on them, they don’t have any gadgets in their hands. There’s a coach who used to have a cellphone with him on the bench. Whenever he took it out, cameramen would focus on him as he’d either be receiving a call, message or sending out a message. There were all sorts of conspiracy theories about who was on the other end of the phone. Funnily enough, the person suspected had nothing to do with it, at all, while the one doing it was the last on anyone’s thoughts or list of suspects. They had a great relationship both personally and professionally.
It is unfortunate that whenever Pirates hit a slump, “it is because of Floyd and Screamer,” but when the team is doing well, “the coach and the players are doing wonders”. I know the two gentlemen are old and experienced enough to talk for themselves and I’m definitely not speaking on their behalf. I just find this walkie-talkie talk very interesting because it is the same thing that used to happen with Tebogo Moloi and Augusto Palacios. I guess that’s the price you pay for being associated with big guns.
Let me congratulate Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila FC on their historic Nedbank Cup win against Chippa United this past weekend. They did it against all the odds, looking at their road to the final, and were deserved champions. Good luck to our Big Three as they look to make their own history by conquering the continent. It is great for South African football to have Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in the quarterfinals of the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup respectively.