Dan Malesela is a great coach. Dan Malesela’s teams play great football. Dan Malesela has produced many star players.
All of those statements are true. After all, Malesela is on the verge of becoming the first coach to lead a National First Division side to Nedbank Cup success. His team, TS Galaxy, faces Kaizer Chiefs in the final of South Africa’s premier club knockout competition at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday 18 May.
Why is it then that Malesela has yet to get a job with one of the country’s top clubs, if he is as good as he is said to be?
“That is one of the things that I am always asking myself,” Malesela says at the Panorama Sports Club in Roodepoort, following his team’s training session in preparation for their big game.
“I wish I could also get exposed like all the players that I have coached who have gone on to bigger things. Sometimes I feel very jealous, I envy these boys when I see them grow and I stay down here. I ask myself, why is it that everyone praises me but I do not get the right kind of job? Like every other coach, I dream of coaching a big club with all the resources. But that is yet to happen, even though I’ve proven that I can produce the goods with the smaller clubs.”
There is a hint of hurt in his voice as he says all of this. I ask if it hurts that none of the big clubs have come calling.
Local is not so lekker in the mind of club bosses
“Of course it hurts. It hurts even more when I continuously see coaches from outside our country moving from club to club despite having failed. They’ve made our country a playground and we have allowed it. The problem is that we still suffer from this sickness that says ‘anything that comes from Europe is better’. Sometimes you see a club [coached by a European] winning but when you look at their play, you cannot tell what it is they are doing. You realise that they win just because they have the resources.”
It boggles the mind, Malesela says, that club bosses are not realising that local coaches are great at their job.
“Don’t they ask themselves why is it that the top clubs in the league are usually coached by locals? Look at the PSL [Premier Soccer League] table. Except for Micho [Sredejovic, the Orlando Pirates coach], all the top four sides are coached by South Africans. And even Micho himself, he has the backing of a local technical team. The local boy [Lehlohonolo] Seema took [Bloemfontein] Celtic into the top eight in spite of all the trouble that they had at the club. In spite of all this, we still do not get given a chance. Come on.”
The football fraternity does know though that Malesela is one of the best football brains in the country. Just this week, he says, former Chiefs star Zacharia “Computer” Lamola called him.
“Maria Maria called me the other day and was saying to me well done on reaching the final, and then he said, ‘I wonder what it will take for South Africa to realise just how great a coach you are.’ It is such calls that keep me going. They make me not give up, even though a lot of things happen that make me want to just stop. But I love the game of football too much to quit. Ever since I’ve known myself, I’ve always been in football. And I believe I still have a lot to achieve. I still want to coach a big team.”
‘Crazy decisions that left me questioning a lot of things’
Malesela has coached in the elite league, having led Chippa United on two troublesome stints. The Eastern Cape club’s boss, Chippa Mpengesi, treated him so poorly that many are surprised the former Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns defender still has the gumption to coach.
Incredibly though, Malesela says being fired on two occasions early in the season by the Chilli Boys is not the worst thing he’s had to endure as a coach.
“With Chippa, I was aware of what I was getting myself into. I went there knowing that if the results are not forthcoming I would be fired. The most difficult thing about Chippa was having to pack the bakkie and make the trip back to Pretoria. But I had made the fans of the club happy.
“They were always pleased with the way the team played and after each game, they would wait to cheer us up and say, ‘Better luck next time coach.’ So my bad experiences as a coach were not with Chippa but elsewhere. When I was with Garankuwa United, they fired me when the club was No. 3. At Cape Town All Stars, we were in second position and they still kicked me out. And even at Winners Park, the club was No. 3 when I was fired. Those were just crazy decisions that left me questioning a lot of things about football. But I then realised that what we are in [football] is not a normal society.”
Such is his love for the game that he keeps bouncing back and generally doing well, just as he has now with the newly formed TS Galaxy. The discerning football fan will remember though that bouncing back was something Malesela did spectacularly as a player.
When a Steve Sekano tackle left the then Pirates captain with a broken leg, it was said he would never play again. But not only did he return to the game, he actually came back a better player for Sundowns and starred for them.
“What helped me to come back from that injury was my love for the game. I still wanted to play and I did not want to listen to anyone saying I was finished. I had not won the league title then and I believed I could not stop playing before winning it.”
That willpower was aided by his doctor, though.
“The doctor who operated on me was very good. He showed me players who had injuries worse than mine but still returned to play. He told me that it would take me a long time to heal but he believed I could come back.”
When he did come back, Malesela had to contend with the country’s negativity.
“They associated me with the injury and always said I was no longer the same Dan. Yet upon self analysis, I actually believed I was a much better player after the injury because I read the game better, I was more patient in my play and I found that I played with much more purpose than before.”
Malesela says he always believes that he has unfinished business, and that’s what keeps him going. As a coach, he has yet to win a trophy and he hopes the Nedbank Cup final will be his first piece of silverware.
‘I should have long been empowered’
His big goal, though, is to find himself leading one of the country’s big clubs from the bench – a goal many proclaimed way back that he was destined to achieve.
“I think I should have long been empowered. I went to the School of Excellence and produced some great results there and developed some youngsters who went on to become superstars. Sam Mbatha and James Mabena said to me back then: ‘You’re going to become one of the best coaches in our big league.’
“But that has not happened and I know it is not because I am not good enough. My records with the so-called small clubs speak for themselves. For me to have made the Nedbank Cup semifinals three times with unknown players is no small feat.”
Why, then, have the big clubs not come knocking at your door, Bra Dan?
“The biggest problem is that as South Africans we just do not believe in one another, we do not like to empower each other. A lot of our clubs’ bosses are good people, they just have a lot of influential hangers-on around them who contribute to the decisions they make. I know that what is generally said about me is that, ‘Dan’s clubs play good football, but they don’t score goals. Don’t hire him because your team will be exciting but won’t win.’
“And these bosses listen to that. But I won’t change how my teams play. I believe we are in the entertainment industry and that demands us to help people relieve stress. We must excite them with how we play. And if I coached a top club with resources, I will definitely be able to buy top strikers who will help solve that scoring problem which people seem to believe is the reason I am not good enough for the top clubs.”
Malesela also says South Africans are generally not patriotic.
“We do not love each other. I believe that when we see a coach with potential, we should do our best to empower him because in the end his success is for the benefit of the country. But South Africa is very different. SA people always get excited when someone gets fired. We are always ready to celebrate when misfortune befalls a coach. We do not take care of each other.”
There can be no denying that given his achievements with the so-called smaller clubs, Malesela should have long ago been given an opportunity by the bigger clubs. But then again, it could be that they are waiting for him to win some silverware before they make that call.
Can he do it on Saturday?