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Celebrating Wendell Robinson!

Those who go about doing their job diligently don’t have to make noise about it. For them, it is just about allowing their work to speak volumes, without fanfare. That’s what Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper coach Wendell Robinson is all about! 

Formerly with SuperSport United and Bidvest Wits, the 49-year-old goalkeeper coach has been operating like a good referee since joining Sundowns’ technical team, doing a great job so much that you don’t even notice him. Due to his character, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that even some of the passionate Sundowns supporters wouldn’t recognise, let alone know, their top-notch goalkeeper coach, who has been doing a sterling job at their club since joining them in 2015.  While others would be jumping up and down for recognition, if Robinson wasn’t recognised anywhere, he wouldn’t like to have it any other way. That’s just how Wendell operates. He always wants to see his charges (goalkeepers) grabbing the limelight because they are the ones doing the job on the field of play. He’s by no means in competition for the headlines with his goalkeepers, allowing his work to speak for itself. 

One of the humblest gentlemen you will ever come across in the football space. You try to twist his arm for an interview and he will politely, with a smile and a chuckle, turn you down and direct you to his goalkeepers rather. “I’ve played my part, speak to the current players because it is their time to shine,” is something you’re most likely to hear from this gentle giant before he quickly changes the topic so that you don’t continue to nag him. All of this, he says and does with a smile. Considering the great job he’s been doing since joining Sundowns, surely you’d think this KwaZulu-Natal-born mentor would feel like he’s earned his right to be seen and heard in the media space, but, true to his form, that’s certainly not the case. Furthermore, it must be stated categorically clear that his decision to lie low has nothing to do with lack of confidence or not knowing his story, it is just in his nature and something that can’t be done anything about by anyone. Don’t let his calm demeaner fool you, the man knows his story and makes a meaningful contribution to the Sundowns bench and technical team. That he chooses to do so behind the scenes is a mark of maturity and staying away from the spotlight. 

Even when he joined coach Pitso Mosimane and Manqoba Mngqithi on the bench as a ‘second assistant’, he always went about his job quietly and meticulously, without drawing anyone’s attention. You’d only see him engaging with the two coaches if and when it was necessary to do so. The man is so reserved that you will easily be mad at him for keeping such a wonderful story of his good job at Sundowns from the general public because his is such a beautiful, inspiring and interesting story that should be told to everyone who cares to listen. 

Sundowns’ goalkeeping department has been producing a contender for the Goalkeeper of the Season almost every season. Their goalkeeping department is, by far, the best in the country and this is not just about individual quality but collective effort as well. The hard work has seen Denis Onyango become the best in the continent and winning major honours. The same can be said about Kennedy Mweene. In fact, it doesn’t matter who is tasked with taking care of Downs’ goals, he will be up to the task. Mweene proved it against Kaizer Chiefs in the MTN8 quarterfinals, where he pulled off a Man of the Match performance and won the team the game in the penalty shootout, before Onyango returned the favour in the final, making five out of seven saves – a PSL record! Reyaad Pieterse and Ricardo Goss have proved to be equally capable of holding the fort in the absence of the two goalkeepers whenever they’ve been called upon. Such is the quality and art of goalkeeping that Robinson oversees. Lack of regular game-time or momentum doesn’t seem to be an issue for the Downs goalkeepers, if their recent performances when called upon having not played in a while is anything to go by. Mamelodi Sundowns’ goalkeeping department is certainly in good hands! After nine league games, not a single team has managed to find the back of the net against the Brazilians! Such is the great continuation of Robinson and his charges to this moving train from Tshwane. When you don’t concede, you just don’t lose! To put things into perspective, Golden Arrows have conceded 15 times, the second highest number of goals conceded so far, after 10 games and they are positioned 10th. Downs remain the only DStv Premiership outfit not to concede a goal so far this season, with Stellenbosch FC being the second team to not have lost a game! Stellies have conceded six in 10 games, scoring 13 in the process. Downs, on the other hand, have scored 17 times! With no CAF Champions League football until early next year, don’t be surprised to see Robinson’s charges push Sundowns further away from the chasing pack and almost sealing the defence of their league title by the Christmas break.  

Wendell also does duty for the junior national teams and was recently part of the U23 technical team that represented South Africa at the Tokyo Olympics. Those who have heard the glowing reviews this gentle giant has been getting from former coach, Mosimane, Mngqithi and Rhulani Mokwena will know that he is no slouch. You don’t work with Mosimane and his two former assistants for so long when you don’t bring anything to the table. The fact that he’s been at Downs and continue to deliver is further proof that the man deserves to be given his flowers while he can still smell them. Knowing this legendary figure, it won’t be surprising for him not to approve of a whole Soccer Laduma editor’s column dedicated to him, more reason there was no warning to him before this was penned. We need to create a habit of celebrating our legends while they are still alive, for contributing positively to the growth of our game having walked the walk and talked the talk of the current players. These are people we need to celebrate and get our younger players to model their game on. There’s so much that Downs’ goalkeepers have already learned from Wendell and one hopes those lessons will be shared with the other goalkeepers as well, which will in turn benefit not just Downs but South African football at large.  

When his name doesn’t even get mentioned among those who have delivered, Wendell doesn’t even feel hard done by because he understands that his sole purpose is to serve. He’s consumed by his craft and never worries about recognition from the outside world, as those he works with fully appreciate, value and recognise him. South Africa is sleeping on this guy! This man is doing a phenomenal job and needs to be celebrated while he’s still actively involved in the Beautiful Game. He continues to sharpen the goalkeeping skills at the Chloorkop-based club and their goalkeepers are the best in the country. “Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t lie,” they say! Wendell, we salute you, brother! The time has come for us to appreciate you, celebrate you, acknowledge you and give you flowers while you can still smell them. May you continue with the great job you’re doing at Chloorkop, serving both Sundowns and national teams with humility, pride and professionalism. There’s still a long way ahead, but, at the rate you’re going, one can boldly predict a brighter future for you! Keep up the good work, legend.






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