Congratulations to coach Manqoba Mngqithi, Steve Komphela and Rulani Mokwena for a mission accomplished. They defended Mamelodi Sundowns’ league title, which is the biggest domestic trophy, in style. You guys did it against all odds!
I can vividly remember when coach Pitso Mosimane left Sundowns to join Egyptian giants Al Ahly, after yet another successful campaign with the Chloorkop-based outfit. The level of doubt and lack of faith that some people had on the two co-coaches when the club announced that they’d succeed Mosimane was just unbearable. The thought was that Mosimane’s departure was the beginning of the end for the star-studded Sundowns team because many thought the two former assistant coaches didn’t have it in them to continue on the same wavelength or even better Mosimane’s achievements at the club.
Some were quick to suggest that the club should go for an experienced coach, cast their net wide and use their international contacts to get a top coach with pedigree to replace Mosimane and keep the two as assistants. The announcement that the club was going to entrust the two with such a great responsibility was met with mixed emotions. Even some passionate club supporters jumped on the bandwagon, casting doubt on the two gentlemen. What was to happen later on turned the volume up from the naysayers when the two co-coaches put a call through to Komphela to come and play a role in guiding this team. The same Komphela who was called names and even seen as this cursed figure that couldn’t even win a Man of the Match award as a piece of silverware. To those prophets of doom, Komphela was, somehow, going to bring ‘bad luck’ and failure to secure any silverware to a team that had become synonymous with ascending the podium. Amid all of this, the professionalism and integrity of the three coaches was put to the unwarranted test. People started throwing conspiracy theories around about the arrangement of these three being jointly in charge of this successful team.
With their independent minds, strong personalities and the fact that they were good enough to coach three different DStv Premiership teams respectively, naysayers kept saying it was only a matter of time before all hell broke loose. To say the three gentlemen’s conduct on the bench remained under scrutiny from day one would be an understatement. People sometimes focused on them more than the game itself but, credit to the three coaches, there was very little to nothing to write home about for the onlookers. They continued to display unison and remained professional and humble enough to work together. This is not to say the three coaches proved anyone wrong because that was never their agenda from the word go. When the team management gave them the responsibility, their only focus was on accomplishing the club’s mandate and targets. Defending this league title should not be watered down by anyone or anything because it came at a huge price. We are talking about a team that lost not just one but two key players in tragic circumstances about a month apart. Yes, Anele Ngcongca was about to join AmaZulu FC when his untimely demise happened, but he was still a Sundowns player through and through. Losing him was never going to be easy because of his experience and the relationships that he’d developed with everyone at the club. He’d become close friends with everyone at Sundowns and played a significant role in guiding younger players like Thapelo Morena because he was selfless like that. As if his untimely passing wasn’t enough, Motjeka Madisha followed and that compounded everything because the club was still trying to come to terms with Anele’s death, only for another blow to follow shortly. Madisha was one of the key players who was always seen as the future captain of the team, having come through the ranks at Chloorkop. Notwithstanding these two tragic losses, you three gentlemen and the rest of the technical team still had a mandate to ensure that Sundowns was represented well on the field of play and that the players remained focused. You had to help them navigate their way through such a difficult period. Not only did you have to be the father-figures to your players, you had to become motivational speakers, therapists, psychologists, priests, friends and sacrifice yourselves for the better of the team while you were also suffering from the same losses. In-between all of this, there was massive pressure and expectations for you to deliver on the field, making sure that the players keep their eye on the ball and that can’t be easy because players, at the end of the day, just like coaches, are human beings. A loss of one teammate is one too many. I congratulate you for steering the ship past the tumultuous period and paying no attention to some of the reckless comments that were made after these losses.
Not many would have noticed the impact of those two losses to Sundowns because you made sure that your players took care of business on the field of play. That’s because of the professional way you guys decided to handle the situations and you never even made excuses about it. Orlando Pirates lost Senzo Meyiwa and everyone will agree with me that the team was never the same since that fateful Sunday evening. You speak to some of Meyiwa’s former teammates and they will tell you that they are yet to recover from that loss and the same can be said about Downs players, but their output on the field tells a different story. That speaks to the amount of work you guys, as the technical team, did behind the scenes and it is only befitting that you get just reward for a job well done.
What I love the most is the simple fact that this project was never about the three of you, it was never about individuals but Mamelodi Sundowns. The humility you’ve shown over this past season is remarkable and a marvel to watch. The unity with which you delivered this title says a lot. That coach Manqoba, as the head, would single out and give credit to coach Rhulani and Steve in his post-match interviews says a lot about the relationship that exists within that technical team. This speaks volumes about the talent we have and what unity can achieve. A lot of people expected a lot of personality clashes from you simply because you’re all opinionated individuals with strong personalities and characters, but because you’re all humble enough, you always put the club first. You knew this project wasn’t about you but the team, which is a message you’ve been very consistent on. There were people looking for the bubble to burst, but you kept them waiting so long that they even forgot that there was something they were waiting for. Well done to you guys, may you continue to grow stronger and remain the gentlemen that you are.
Speaking of gentlemen, last weekend was one of the saddest as one learned of the tragic passing of two football gentlemen, Pule Malebo and Thulani Thuswa. Those who were privileged enough to know these two would agree that our football is poorer without them. May their beautiful souls rest in peace. Gone too soon, gentlemen, too soon!
Editor’s note: Readers, with next Wednesday (June 16) being a public holiday, Soccer Laduma might only be available on Thursday at your favourite store, as the public holiday will affect the distribution of the paper. We apologise in advance for the inconvenience. Thanks so much for your wonderful support and understanding.