Mamelodi Sundowns have always been the moneyed club of PSL football. They have not always been one of the elites of CAF Champions League football though. Yes, there was that one time when Masandawana reached the CAFCL final in 2001. But they were never a name that came up In CAFCL conversation until Pitso Mosimane changed their destiny.
It is not said out loud but Sundowns looked to Africa as a way to “become bigger” than Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. Sundowns had long since become the winning team in South Africa yet this success did not seem to raise their stature to beyond being mentioned as part of a big three. Never mind the fact that Kaizer Chiefs, and to a greater extent, Orlando Pirates had pretty much stopped winning PSL titles.
The first step to realize the objective was getting an appropriate coach to handle the typically impressive squad at Sundowns. Pitso Mosimane was identified as the one and fittingly so. He always had aspirations of becoming an “African coach.”
In fact, in a recent interview, Pitso challenged South African coaches to abandon the comfort of being also-rans in the PSL and go “outside the border”for grand clubs like Simba SC and Primeiro Agosto in order to get CAF Champions League experience. He had a failed attempt at the CAFCL in 2015 before becoming champion in 2016.
What Comes After Pitso Mosimane?
Mamelodi Sundowns could not defend their title in 2017. Nevertheless, Patrice Motsepe’s spending and Pitso Mosimane’s genius ensured that the PSL side remained competitive in Africa.
The CAFCL semifinal is the best Sundowns has done since the days of Billiat, Dolly and Tau. Rival PSL have as such considered their travels across Africa a waste of time. They do not think of Sundowns’ other monumental achievements like establishing a rivalry with Wydad Casablanca and beating Al Ahly 5-0.
The era of Pitso Mosimane at Chloorkop is now over. The man switched alliegances to Al Ahly for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the first black African man to coach the Red Devils. It would not be surprising to see him get a second stint at Sundowns but they must now plan for a future without him.
Appointment of Manqoba Mngqithi and Rhulani Mokwena as co-coaches was the first indication of the path Sundowns will opt for in their quest to remain relevant in Africa. Was making Pisto’s assistants coaches the right thing to do? This decision is an obvious effort at ensuring continuity.
Keeping things the same is comforting for players and fans alike. But it can also lead to distress further down the road as has happened in the case of Barcelona. They have stubbornly stuck to their approach of hiring nondescript coaches out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to the “Cruyffian way,” whatever that means.
Sundowns could be setting themselves up to fail the same way. Players will be expecting the same style of football and fans will demand the same achievements Pitso attained. This makes the job of filling Pitso’s boots harder for Rhulani and Mngqithi even if we are talking about two feet in this case.
Change will be Good for Chloorkop
An observation that cannot be waived away is the fact that Pitso Mosimane failed to replicate his CAFCL success despite getting all the best players a PSL coach could wish for. Perhaps, it is an indicator that his methods had hit their ceiling and another way must be opted for. Choosing his helpers to take the team another step forward may therefore not be a wise policy. There will be a lack of new thinking.
I already know what the hardcore fans of Pitso Mosimane are thinking. “Well, who else has won the CAFCL time in that timeframe?” It is only Esperance Tunis who have become repeat champions since Pitso did it. The CAF Champions League is, after all, difficult to win.
What makes Esperance Tunis tick is their ability to reinvent themselves after each great generation or exceptional coach comes and goes. The Tunis side is reliant on great structures at the club rather than amazing personalities. This will be a better model for Sundowns to follow lest they find themselves hitting a lower ceiling like Barcelona does now.
One act that enables consistent success of the African giant clubs is recruiting a new bunch of players in a timely manner. You do not hold onto a generation of players for so long like Al Ahly did with Manuel Jose’s team. Sundowns showed symptoms of the same illness by the fact that they were the oldest squad in the CAFCL group stage this season.
Luckily, the Brazilians did not sleep on acquiring some of the best young talents in South Africa. Players like Rivaldo Coetzee, Promise Mkhuma, Sphelele Mkhulise and, of course, Phakamani Mahlambi can lead Sundowns to another era of continental success. They will need new thinking to prosper.
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