Michaelson Ntokozo Gumede

By Ntokozo Gumede

Journalist


Sundowns coach Mokwena’s blueprint to success

"I make up for it with a lot of hard work. I know the race that I am running," says Mokwena.


If there is a WhatsApp group chat that has Premier Soccer League coaches, Mamelodi Sundowns mentor, Rulani Mokwena would be one person who comments the least as he says he still has a lot to learn from the likes of the more experienced coaches like Gavin Hunt and Eric Tinkler.

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Unlike Tinkler and Hunt, Mokwena has never played professional football, so he only understands the game from a coaching point of view.

However, the 36-year-old mentor has done well since he was promoted to the head coach role at Sundowns and being the football enthusiast that he is, is a way to supplement for the fact that he never kicked a ball.

“I make up for it with a lot of hard work. I know the race that I am running. I respect the fact that Hunt has won so much more than me and has played football at the highest level. He has coached so many teams and there are coaches who have achieved incredible things and are probably better than I could ever be,” says Mokwena.

“I know my handicaps. The first is that I am young, the second one is that I am black and thirdly, I’ve never played professional football. These things make me work three times as hard because I know I have to make up for so many handicaps. What helps is that I have a good team and I have support from the management and the technical team and that makes a big difference,” he added.

Zwane’s influence

Mokwena led Sundowns to the semifinals of the Caf Champions League for the first time since the club won the competition in 2016, and one player who has been a key and central figure in Sundowns’ success is captain Themba Zwane.

“Mshishi”, as he is affectionately known, scored the equaliser that instigated Downs’ come back from a goal down to beat CR Belouizdad 2-1 on Saturday as Sundowns won the overall tie 6-2.

“It is just a pleasure to coach “Mshishi “. Good players make the coaches better and that is what he does for me every single day. He is an amazing human being with an amazing aura. Pep Guardiola was speaking about how Bernado Silva makes Manchester City look good without the goals or assists.

“Themba makes us play a lot better. He finds the spaces offensively. Themba is one of the greatest football players we will ever see in South Africa. The biggest testament of a great footballer is where the complement comes from fellow footballers. We will still see a lot from him,” said Mokwena.

Wydad stumbling block

Sundowns will take on rivals Wydad Casablanca in the semifinals and the sides know each other very well as the Moroccan side have always been a thorn in the flesh for Bafana Ba Style, especially in the knockout stages.

They’ve met a few times in the quarterfinals and Wydad always came out on top. Mokwena has not studided the side yet, but instsits he will leave no stone unturned when they meet to battle for a place in the final.

“I’ve only watched them as a spectator but the work will begin as we get closer to it. They have a good historic attachment to the Champions League and we are going to have to play very well but we will cross that bridge when we get there,” said Mokwena.

He adds: “I don’t feel it because I did not live the situation, so I will rely on talking to the players and find out what their feelings are. We will try to prepare as best as possible.”