A hearty congratulations goes out to Mamelodi Sundowns on their magnificent achievement of winning the 2016 CAF Champions League. This is sensational news for all connected with the club as well as for South African football on the whole. Let me begin with the former. Some four years ago Sundowns turned to Pitso Mosimane to revive the club’s fortunes. It was a gamble at the time, no doubt about it. Mosimane, recently sacked by SAFA for an underwhelming showing at Bafana Bafana, was desperate to restore his reputation. The coach had done reasonably well previously at SuperSport United (winning the-then SAA Supa 8) and served as national team assistant under Carlos Alberto Parreira (twice) and Joel Santana.
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However his own time with the country’s top job was a mixed bag of results to say the least. He started well enough with a friendly win over Ghana, who had just reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010. A solid start to 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying included wins over Niger and Egypt, and draws in Sierra Leone and the land of the pharoahs. South Africa had moved up to number five in CAF rankings but the wheels began coming off with defeat in Niger, who were performing above expectations. It all came down to the final match against the Sierra Leoneans at the Mbombela Stadium. Mosimane (and it is important to include his technical support staff and all at SAFA) misunderstood the rules. South Africa drew 0-0 that day and erroneously believed they were going to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Instead the goalless draw saw them crash out on head-to-head rules. The happy dance done by Siphiwe Tshabalala and co was in vain. Mosimane should have been sacked there and then however SAFA persisted with him.
A disastrous draw with Ethiopia in the first World Cup qualifying match was next and Mosimane paid the price. He was axed. In between all of this he became increasingly arrogant and feisty in his media dealings. He even accused me of having an agenda. What the coach clearly missed was that while I am a journalist and it is my job to hold him accountable, I am also a South African and I want Bafana Bafana to do well. It therefore stands to reason that I wanted him to do well because if he did well, the national team would be doing well. This was lost on him.
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Nevertheless the Masandawana faithful called upon Mosimane to be the man to replace Johan Neeskens at Chloorkop. Some 18 months later Downs were the Absa Premiership champions. A plethora of trophies, including a second league title, have followed. Mosimane is less grumpy with the press and it has all come full circle. I am genuinely pleased for the club, Mosimane, the players and Patrice Motsepe. Mosimane is also being spoken about in such high regard that a Bafana Bafana return is being touted. And why not? It is clear to me he feels he has unfinished business there and he will no doubt be all the wiser for what happened last time round. Yes, for now Shakes Mashaba is in charge and I fail to see how Mosimane will be leaving the capital club anytime soon but in the future (perhaps after Russia 2018 or Cameroon 2019?) the door is certainly wide open for a Mosimane return I would have thought.
There is another important point to be made here. The Brazilians have proven, as have Orlando Pirates, that when a South African club takes the Champions League seriously, they are as competitive as anyone else out there. Pirates reached the final three years ago and fell to Al Ahly, perennial continental trophy contenders. This time around Sundowns were in the final and eliminated Zamalek, another Egyptian club contesting continental honours on an annual basis. Some argue there was an element of fortune about Downs’ success. They point to the Second Round when Mosimane’s men were eliminated on away goals by AS Vita. However the Congolese club were later found guilty of fielding an ineligible player in the Preliminary Round against Mafunzo. That is no one in Pretoria’s problem and the fact of the matter is that had it been discovered sooner, Sundowns would not even have faced Vita.
It is my hope that SAFA and the PSL will now seriously look at what Downs have achieved and realise that it is possible for South African clubs to not only compete in Africa, but to win in Africa. There can be no doubt that the knock-on effect is national team success. Certain South African players have now shown that there is no need to fear playing in uncomfortable conditions elsewhere on the continent. Hopefully they can now relay this to their fellow countrymen and Bafana Bafana can become competitive once again. Mosimane and Sundowns have proven that it is a dream far closer to reality than we might suspect.