Pitso Mosimane’s mouth is a weapon of mass destruction. The bombs that the Mamelodi Sundowns coach drops have a devastating effect on his rivals, and sometimes himself.
Four years ago, the PSL slapped him with a R100 000 fine, the maximum permissible, for bringing the league into disrepute with his utterances. He has received what he calls “love letters” from disgruntled club owners who accuse him of “tapping up” their players. Two coaches, Eric Tinkler and Ernst Middendorp, once said Mosimane, also referred to as Jingles, talks too much.
But the coach’s mouth is also an important weapon, which he at times uses aptly to deflect, especially after negative results, as well as to get under the skin of his rivals. Orlando Pirates downplayed their chances in the Absa Premiership race last season because they didn’t want to get into a war of words with Mosimane. It seems they felt that in that kind of war, there could be only one winner – Mosimane.
“I am like this because of the way I grew up,” Mosimane says. “I was told to speak my mind. My son [Rea] is here and he always asks questions. I have told him that you must always have a ‘why?’. You must be inquisitive. My son is always touching and opening things to see what’s inside. I am not shy to start something. I know that it might backfire but I will start it. I play the way I want to play and everybody says we will see where he will end with this thing. As long as I can back it up, it’s okay.”
“You either eat or be eaten in that space. I like to eat.”
Indeed, the 2016 CAF African Coach of the Year can back it up. “Uyathanda or awuthandi [whether you like it or not], Pitso is the most successful coach in the PSL,” said PSL chairman Irvin Khoza at the organisation’s awards in May.
But therein lies the problem. Mosimane’s success, not just his mouth, makes him a polarising figure among South African football fans. If he wasn’t this successful, he would be dismissed as a nutter. But the fact that he wins and speaks his mind makes some people uncomfortable.
“I don’t think that there are more people who hate me than those who love me, so I am on the positive side,” says Mosimane, “Some people don’t want to say anything and they die without saying anything or standing up for anything. You must have an opinion. It doesn’t mean that what I say is right; it’s my opinion. I express my opinion but I don’t talk about pies in the sky. I back it up with facts. I don’t like to be unnecessarily apologetic. Unfortunately I am in a team that competes with Pirates and [Kaizer] Chiefs. There’s full-time competition between those teams. You either eat or be eaten in that space. I like to eat.”
The Brazilians have “eaten” a lot since Mosimane took over in December 2012. The 54-year-old rescued Sundowns from the brink of relegation and has since guided them to three league titles, the CAF Champions League crown, the CAF Super Cup, the Telkom Knockout, the Nedbank Cup, and made history with the Brazilians as the first South African team to feature in the Fifa Club World Cup.
“I eat, drink and sleep football.”
“I like to win, even if it’s a friendly game,” Mosimane says, “The guys know I get upset when we lose a friendly game because I don’t want bad habits. People must know that we play to win. It’s a culture. You must win! They know. I can’t stand losing. I work very hard and I want people around me to have the same mentality.”
It would be easy, even forgivable, to equate Mosimane’s work ethic with obsessiveness. His preparation for each match includes watching his opponents’ last three matches, reading his players’ post-match assignments on what they think their shortcomings were and how they plan on improving, and reading the breakdown of their opponents from the club’s team of analysts and his technical team.
But before he does all this, he writes his own report so that he can raise whatever isn’t picked up by his analysts or the players. And then there’s the work the team does on the training ground.
“I eat, drink and sleep football,” Mosimane says, “I am able to have an argument on football because I have facts and references. I am in touch with football at the highest level – in Europe, Africa and South America. I go to these places. I move around and I know what’s happening there. I am not saying that I know everything, but I have extensive knowledge of this game. When you aren’t sure of what you are saying you aren’t going to talk, neh? But when you have back-up on what you say, you can talk.
“In South Africa, they feel that you are controversial when you speak facts, especially when you win against your competitors. That becomes a problem and they say ‘this guy talks too much, this guy thinks that he knows everything.’”
His darkest moment as a coach, Bafana Bafana’s “dance of shame” in Mbombela – when the senior men’s national team celebrated qualification for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations when in fact they didn’t qualify – proved he doesn’t know everything.
He unleashed his weapon of mass destruction on everyone within earshot, especially the media, whom he believes hounded him out of the job as Bafana coach. He learnt from that episode and began picking his battles more wisely. The Brazilians then gave him an opportunity to do what he couldn’t achieve with Bafana.
“I came to Sundowns”, Mosimane says, “because I wanted a team that will back me up. I knew that I didn’t finish my job when I was at Safa [SA Football Association] in terms of the continent. I wanted to conquer the continent. I wanted to win the Cup of Nations and go to the World Cup.”
“That was my drive but they didn’t allow me to finish my job. Sundowns then said we can give you the adventure you want. I asked what was my mandate and they said to win the league. I asked: ‘To win the league? The team is second from bottom.’ They said yes, you can win the league. I didn’t win the league [that season], we finished ninth.
“I then started from the beginning and we won the league. We haven’t finished lower than second since then. It’s the belief that the president of the team [Patrice Motsepe] and the board has in me that has kept me going. They believe in excellence. They like to push. Let’s see how strong we are. I have won my Cup of Nations at club level [the CAF Champions League]. I’ve gone to the World Cup at club level [Fifa Club World Cup], so I am happy.”