Photo via Twenty20 Stock Images.
Saturday’s Telkom Knockout final at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium (18:00 kick-off) will see two of South Africa’s most demanding coaches clash. Eric Tinkler’s Maritzburg United seek to topple Pitso Mosimane’s Mamelodi Sundowns.
Songs from the Loftus Versfeld crowd echoed around the stadium as Mosimane gave his post-match interview to SuperSport following Wednesday’s hard-fought 3-1 win over Stellenbosch.
It’s a rare sound in South African football. Most clubs struggle to bring supporters to the stadiums, nevermind keeping the jingles going post-match.
Most coaches would simply say “thank you” to the fans. But Mosimane is not most coaches.
Just as he so often does with his players, the aptly nicknamed ‘Jingles’ found a cunning way of asking for even more from the supporters and showing his appreciation at the same time.
“Thanks to our people here. Ok, they were getting a little impatient with me, but I know Sundowns people — it’s ok,” he said with a wry smile.
“They are my people. I’ve been with them for the last seven years. Sometimes, they don’t really believe, but the voice goes up after [we score] goals. It’s normal.”
Like any marriage, the union between Mosimane and Sundowns supporters has had its ups and downs since he took over as head coach seven years ago. Although he played for Masandawana, it took time for him to win over their fans.
He and Sundowns crossed paths when they needed each other most in 2012. Mosimane had recently been dismissed as Bafana Bafana coach, while Abafana Ba Style were second from bottom in the 2012-13 Premier Division.
The final nail was hammered into the coffin of Mosimane’s predecessor, Johan Neeskens, when Bloemfontein Celtic beat Sundowns 1-0 in the Telkom Knockout final.
Mamelodi Sundowns vs Maritzburg United: Head-to-head
League and cup matches dating back to 2006-07 all included in this data.
Mosimane failed to steer the Brazilians into the top eight in that league campaign, but they won the title the following season. Mosimane now has four Premier Division trophies, a CAF Champions League, and a CAF Super Cup to his name.
Even so, the 55-year-old has won just two domestic cups since taking over at Sundowns — lifting both the Nedbank Cup and Telkom Knockout in 2015.
That year belonged mainly to Kaizer Chiefs as Stuart Baxter’s troops stormed to the 2014-15 Premiership title. Amakhosi have returned to full force under Ernst Middendorp after four barren years.
Sundowns are still in contention to defend their league title, but now more than any time over the last four years, the cups can provide Mosimane with some solace as the beat goes on.
But it won’t be easy. Maritzburg United have been feisty this season.
Life is as rosy as it has been for the Team of Choice since 2017-18, when they finished fourth in the Premiership and lost the Nedbank Cup final to Free State Stars. That same season, they beat Sundowns in the semi-finals (of the Nedbank Cup) with Lebohang Maboe scoring against the team he would join in the next transfer window.
Coach Fadlu Davids was later fired after a poor start to 2018-19 and Muhsin Ertugral lasted a mere month after replacing him. It was up to Tinkler to save them from relegation and he delivered the great escape.
Maritzburg United have lost one of their last 11 matches in all competitions. Tinkler will probably say this is one too many, but it is a sign of what is possible for a so-called “smaller” club in the highly competitive PSL.
Last season saw First Division side TS Galaxy take down Kaizer Chiefs 1-0 in the Nedbank Cup final. Seven of the 14 Telkom Knockout matches this year have been decided by the lottery of penalties, suggesting that any match in this tournament can go either way.
Since the 2018 Nedbank Cup defeat to Free State Stars sent them into decline, Maritzburg United have come full circle. If the players were listening to their coach after the Kaizer Chiefs victory, they will know that they cannot afford to let lighting strike in the same place this year.
Leonard Solms is a freelance South African multi-sport journalist who has written for a number of regional, national and international newspapers and websites. He won a Rhodes-Investec Top 100 Award in 2018, the year in which he completed his Bachelor of Journalism at Rhodes University.