Hollywoodbets spoke with our man, senior SABC sports’ journalist, Velile Mnyandu about the 2019/20 PSL and NFD campaigns. We looked back at some of the best moments of the season as well as speaking about managerial changes, player performances and much more.
Image copyright – Steve Haag Sports
ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT – STEVE HAAG SPORTS
Q: Let’s start with Micho’s resignation. When you heard the news did you think Rhulani would be given the job and did you still think Pirates can compete for the league with a new coach?
Velile Mnyandu: As someone who had been working with Micho for two seasons, having Rhulani as a caretaker coach it made sense for Pirates at the time because he was very much part of the project and continuity was key for the club at the time as the season was just starting and he knew everything that had been done during the pre-season and was party to it.
After finishing as runners-up for two consecutive seasons, the expectation was that this was the season where Pirates was going to challenge for the league title, pity for Rhulani at a big club like Pirates, you will always be judged on results. It has been a positive start for coach Jozef Zinnbauer so far but it was always going to be difficult for them to catch with the title-chasing teams, the real test for him will be next season. The best they can do now is to at least finish in a position which will take them back to the CAF inter-club competitions.
Q: When Middendorp won the first manager of the month award, how much of a chance did you give him to actually challenge for the title?
VM: I remember very well, we were at the Absa Bank offices in Auckland Park on the week the new season was about to kick-off for the launch and Middendorp was on the record that their main intention this season is to win the league. Most people laughed when he said that because just two months back they had finished outside the top eight and lost a cup final to a team from National First Division. No one gave him a chance also because there were rumours that even his club had also given him five matches at the beginning of the season to prove himself.
Q: After the first seven games everyone started complaining about the match officials where this term “benefiting” was used to describe the poor performances. What do you think is the problem and how can it be fixed. Do we need technology or should we change the way referees are trained?
VM: I think the solution to this is technology (VAR) but also move ahead with the plans that SAFA and PSL have always had and that is to set up a professional referees structure. And for this to happen, we need the two bodies to speak in one voice and pull in the same direction. The fact that at the international level, CAF and FIFA only use Victor Gomes most of the time in international assignments from South Africa, tells you that our refereeing department is slacking somewhere and these are some of the things they need to rectify. But I also feel there was also a bit of an exaggeration on the complaints coming from the coaches, the match officials become easy targets when coaches fail.
Q: Kaizer Chiefs became one of the teams to beat and proved to be serious title contenders. What did Middendorp change from the team that finished ninth last season?
VM: The arrival of Samir Nurkovic upfront, playing as a target man helped Middendorp a great deal. And also the return of players like Eric Mathoho, Lebogang Manyama, Itumeleng Khune, Reeve Frosler from injuries also offered him some key quality players which he had been missing and they almost became like new signings. And if you note now most of these players have been key to Chiefs this season. He also had a clear playing approach that was going to suit the squad which he had this season and also his tactical plan.
Q: Samir Nurkovic and Kearyn Baccus are two of the standout performers from the PSL debutants which other new players would you say they impressed on their first season?
VM: Jonas Mendes (Black Leopards), Sifiso Ngobeni (Bloem Celtic), Daniel Morgan (Maritzburg United), Waseem Isaacs (Stellenbosch FC) and Kelvin Moyo (Chippa United).
Q: The sacking of Benni McCarthy was one the biggest surprises, do you think Cape Town City panicked in firing one of the most promising young coaches in the country?
VM: Given the brand of football that CT City was playing, the firing of Benni came as a surprise at the time but I think there was possible some underlying issues there. Just go back to the beginning of the season when Benni was asking the club to sign a centre-back and actually wanted Robyn Johannes to return to the club but the chairman John Comitis disagreed with him publicly. It tells you that the environment for the two to work together was no longer conducive and for that reason seeing them parting ways was not really a surprise per se.
Q: What led to the highly-rated Rhulani Mokwena failing to finish the season as the manager of Pirates?
VM: You know what happened Rhulani this season has happened to many coaches, it’s part of growth in the coaching space. Think of how the journeys of other coaches started and if they were smooth rides or not, I believe that he will bounce back and experience is the best teacher. Like I had said earlier at a team like Pirates, results are everything especially on the back of the two seasons they’ve just had.
I believe that at Chippa United we are going to see the best of Rhulani, look at the youthful technical team that he has started to assemble and the innovations that he’s introducing with stakeholders in the province—–remember in him you don’t just have a coach but a Sports Science graduate. You’ll also recall that from his time at Sundowns, he had an opportunity to go and coach Ajax Cape Town but he chose to remain with Pitso and they won the CAF Champions League title. Some things happen for a reason and the way I see it at some stage Rhulani will return to Pirates as a head coach…
Q: Eric Tinkler took relegation-threatened Maritzburg United and turned them into one of the toughest teams to face in the PSL despite losing star players like Ndlovu and Makaringe. How does he do this?
VM: This is one of the reasons that we need club owners to be patient with coaches, make technically informed decisions when hiring and firing a coach. Tinkler saved the team from relegation in the play-offs last season but already at the beginning of the season, there was already talk that his job is on the line. You’ll recall that the first five matches of the season they failed to register a win, lost three and drew two games but they haven’t looked back ever since. And they have also finished second in a cup final losing to Mamelodi Sundowns in the TKO. Tinkler demands hard work and a disciplined approach from his players, you can see there are no stars in that team, the players work hard for each other. Also, individuals like Richard Ofori, Keagan Buchanan and Rushnie De Reuck have stepped up to the plate.
Q: Stellenbosch looked like a team that would struggle in the top flight, but as the season has progressed, they gained experience and started competing. How would you describe their debut season?
VM: I remember after they were thumped 4-0 by Chiefs, people on social media quickly dismissed them as not being PSL material and that they deserved to return to the First Division. I disagreed with that, how could a team which won the NFD all of a sudden be looked down at like that.
Again here credit should go to the club bosses who were not trigger happy like some in the PSL and continued to support Steve Barker and his technical team. This was also at a time when speculation was on the overdrive that Barker was going to be fired and some names were already linked to his job. Look at some of the teams which changed coaches this season, most of them are down there fighting relegation—some PSL clubs just hire and fire for the sake of it, there’s no technical blueprint of vision which informs them. It’s one area for me which I feel we are still behind in, even at SAFA for that matter…
Q: Orlando Pirates changed under Josef Zinnbauer and they become the fearless team we know them to be. What did he do differently?
VM: To be honest I don’t think Zinnbauer has done much there at Pirates, again continuity has been key with having Fadlu Davids next to him who had been there with Rhulani and Micho. But one area I would say the German has improved has been the defensive organisation and when you speak to the players they also tell you that. Pirates has got one of the strongest squads in the league, even under Rhulani luck was just not with them when you look at the brand of football they were playing. How you defend also informs how you attack, someone like Gabadinho Mhango has scored more goals under Zinnbauer, it tells you he’s benefiting more from the new coach’s approach. But again, for me, I will judge better next season when we would’ve seen what he’s all about.
Q: AmaZulu’s reliance on Bongi Ntuli is unheard of. He’s literally the only player who’s scoring for them. What’s happening at Usuthu?
VM: They are one of the clubs which I was referring to here about what informs their hiring and firing. Do they have a Sporting Director who channels a technical vision of the club? Who makes these calls to fire two coaches in one season, what is followed when recruiting new players, relegating five senior players to train with juniors and throwing youngsters from the reserves to the deep end, who makes these calls?
Make no mistake, Usuthu is one of the teams I would like to see survive in the PSL because I like how they are active in the society, how they look after their brand and their strong emphasis on youth development. But with their senior team, I have a lot of questions and if they are not careful, they won’t survive even though I’m still hopeful that they can.
Q: Moroka Swallows are back in professional football and they are in the promotion fight. Can the Dube birds come back to the PSL soon?
VM: Ever since they dropped down to the First Division we’ve been missing the Birds in the top flight. I think credit should also go to the club’s leadership on how they quickly got their house in order this season after parting ways with Zeca Marques. I think since their acquisition of Maccabi FC status was only wrapped up on the eve of the kick-off of the new season, this left them with little time to put all the structures in place and this affected their start.
You just look at the problems they still have with players that they had to get rid of. But the masterstroke was bringing in a coach like Brendon Trutter who is familiar with the NFD and knows what’s needed especially when you want to earn promotion. I still feel they are just short of a proven goal scorer to take them to the top.
Q: Ajax are top of the table despite the internal drama that forced staff members to resign. How much of an effect will this coronavirus outbreak cause on a team like the Urban Warriors who were so close?
VM: Seven points clear at the top with only five matches to go, I don’t see them throwing it away from here. Remember they were close to Stellenbosch FC even last season until they gave it away with the home loss to Uthongathi towards the end.
Yes they have had internal problems but that was inevitable because the shareholders were differing on the approach, Ajax Amsterdam was insisting on the youthful approach but Ari Efstathiou knew what cost them promotion last season, the NFD is a different animal. But unfortunately, those divisions now look like this could also be the end of this Ajax Franchise in SA, more than two decades later.
Q: Given Thibedi is one of the loaned players who have done well in the Glad Africa Championship. Which other players can we expect to see in the PSL next season from the first division?
VM: I think most of us can’t wait to see how the U23 international Grant Magerman is going to fit in that Sundowns midfield of Andile Jali, Hlompho Kekana, Tiyani Mabunda, and another new signee George Maluleka next season. What I think will count in Magerman’s favour is that he’s an experienced PSL campaigner as well as the need to refresh and drop the average age of the Sundowns squad. But it also depends if Pitso Mosimane will be with Sundowns next season, I’m saying this because of these delays we see in concluding a new contract with the club. I’ve also been impressed with Athenkosi Dlala at AmaTuks, he can play as a 6 and a 10, has been key to the Pretoria side this season and also in helping the SA U23 in qualifying for the Olympics. There’s also another exciting midfielder Ndhlondhlo at TTM, very exciting in the middle of the park, if the PSL scouts are doing their job that boy should be in the top flight next season. I also can’t wait to see the Ajax right-back, Keagan Johansen, in the PSL next season, another star for the future.
Q: How do you think the PSL and Glad Africa Championship seasons should end?
VM: I think what is important is that at the right time the two leagues will have to conclude their programmes because if they don’t there will be a lot of problems for the PSL. But everything will depend on how the country is coping with COVID-19, as things stand we are just not in a good position to continue with football. The PSL has also said that they will be guided by government particularly the Department of Health on when is the right time to resume with their programme which will most probably be behind closed doors.
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