Salute Sundowns, the standard-bearers of our times
By BARENG-BATHO KORTJAAS
Arena Holdings PTY
In a crunch match against the team that crushed them in the Caf Champions League in 2019, Mamelodi Sundowns’ promise to return the favour was demolished by a Wydad Casablanca that refused to die. There was no shame in defeat. When Pitso Mosimane ended his success-laden season and ventured into uncharted territory by going to coach Africa’s greatest club Al Ahly, there was no disruption in the Mamelodi Sundowns coaching department. His long-time assistant Manqoba Mngqithi formed a duet, co-coaching alongside Rhulani Mokwena with senior coach Steve Komphela in a supporting role. The trio achieved a fifth consecutive title. When Mgqithi was demoted from co-coaching duties and Mokwena upgraded as the head coach, it marked a new epoch in which the club has created a stable environment. Mokwena was elevated to solo boss after Sundowns were sent on a mind-numbing 30 MTN8 loss to Orlando Pirates. Were Sundowns an artwork, they would be a piece of work by Michelangelo, whom Mokwena once mistook for Picasso during his stint at Pirates. This time he used the DStv Premiership platform to show that he has not bitten more than he can chew. A defeatless streak of 20 matches with 14 victories and six draws is confirmation that Sundowns are incomparable and operate in their own orbit. Mokwena, he who mirrors himself as South Africa’s version of Pep Guardiola, is festooning himself as a fully fledged member of the managerial establishment, writing his own chapter in the book of coaching geniuses. That he is emerging from the shadow of Mosimane and Mngqithi and stepping into the spotlight was there for the world to see a fortnight ago at the Stade Nelson Mandela when he laid down a masterclass, a classic match that will live in memory for eternity. The last-eight elimination of CR Belouizdad was a football statement that is a testament to his superior tactical acumen — the Brazilians delivered a polished, dominant display on hostile foreign soil. The yellow men from Mamelodi were more mellow than vintage wine in what can be described as the best performance of Sipho Mbule’s football life. Mbule set the tempo, dictated the rules of engagement as Sundowns rampaged to a 4-0 first-leg victory. Guys, these gents are South Africa’s greatest gifts to football. The sky is the limit is their motto. At the rate they have been going, they want to break through to see what lies beyond the blue ceiling of mother earth. The letter M has been the magic letter in the dynasty of Downs head coaches. Mosimane. Mngqithi. Mokwena. Mokwena is correct in stating that players have seen their standard improve since making Chloorkop their home. They’ve become the best in the business … As the new boss, he has added another dimension to Sundowns’ superiority. He is cut from the cloth of football royalty which goes as far back as his grandfather Eric Scara Sono, his uncle Jomo Sono and father Julius Sono. Sundowns are in safe hands. It is disingenuous to dismiss his stellar season in favour of the club’s financial war chest. Chelsea have money from American billionaire Ted Boehly and a consortium of investors but they are still rubbish. Clubs teeming to the brim with stars still need a coach to make them tick. Graham Potter couldn’t get them to fire. Frank Lampard refuses to accept that great players don’t always make good coaches. Mokwena’s playing prowess is negligible. The same can’t be said about his coaching. Salute Sundowns, the greatest team of our times. On the eve of the match, Wydad coach Sven Vandenbroeck said: “Coach Rulani is following Pep Guardiola for a long time and so, there are a lot of variations in his play. In Morocco he tried one and I think there’s another three or four (that he can use in Pretoria).” Enough said.