The coach and the unpacked bag

Bongani Mafu
Bongani Mafu


The dreaded axe has been known to descend merciless on coaches and in most cases much to the excitement of the emboldened executors, usually the blame-immune club management.

 One coach once said when they sign their appointment letters, the next and inevitable step is the disappointment. Upon appointment, it’s all smiles, handshakes and camera flashes in front of the media or an exuberant club crowd, similar to a blissful wedding; but the parting is always merciless; akin to divorce. It always turns sour in the blink of an eye.

Uganda coach, Micho, last week remarked their bags are always half packed. There was Notwane coach, the late Benjamin Moyo, a jovial, colourful character who always travelled with his suitcase for away matches, a clear indication of the thin ice coaches skate every day.

He had a brief stint with the club before loading his already packed bags for a lucrative job in Zimbabwe. It is guaranteed the sun will set at some stage for coaches, but there is no assurance it will rise tomorrow.  Theirs is one day at a time.

 Financial institutions are reluctant to offer credit as coaching easily passes as one of the world’s most unpredictable professions.

Even one of the globe’s revered and most successful coaches, Jose Mourinho did not buy a house in Manchester when he signed on the dotted lines at expectant Manchester United. He lives in a hotel and he knows the next moment he might be on the next flight home.

In the BTC Premiership, the engine has hardly warmed but talk of the revolving door spitting out its first casualty is picking pace.

Eyes are firmly on Mochudi Centre Chiefs coach, Bongani Mafu, who joined at the beginning of the season. He has had stints in the UK, handled Zimbabwe giants, Highlanders and holds impressive qualifications.

But the demanding Magosi family are keeping an eagle eye on Mafu with the club reportedly handing him a three match ultimatum.

Mafu probably hasn’t even finished putting the last piece of furniture in the right place at his new, temporary home, but he has to keep his eye on his still unpacked suitcase at the same time.

It’s a dilemma most coaches find themselves in; to unpack or leave the luggage intact and instead frequently check when the next bus or plane is leaving. Mafu found a side low on confidence, missing the much needed vim and slightly off colour following the off season departure of a critical piece in the Chiefs jigsaw puzzle; Tendai Nyumasi. Lemponye ‘FC’ Tshireletso, a commanding presence on the left side of the pitch, was lured away by cash rich Township Rollers. Mike Sithole and his assistant, Michael Mogaladi took away their technical expertise to Jwaneng Galaxy.

The management discovered that their attempts to fill the void hit a brick wall as investor Saeyd Jamali deserted the club. To compound it all, beneath the departures, two factions were fighting for the control of the club.

Additionally, the club has been battling to register Jerome Ramatlhakwana and Phenyo Mongala, with the latter carrying a serious knee injury. Mafu was then forced to rely on largely untested players for a club of Chiefs’ stature with no proven goalscorer upfront. The load fell to new boy, Stan Ngala who was bound to find the scoring burden too big to carry on his debut season.

With the club battling with finances, no quality additions were made and Chiefs were bound to struggle. They have made a comparatively slow start with two defeats in nine outings, which include the Mascom Top 8 cup exit.

The management has reportedly not hesitated to reach for the knives, ready to rip apart Mafu’s stay at Chiefs. Factors surrounding their poor pre-season are probably not a matter. The quality at Chiefs’ disposal does not matter as each and every team loss is placed at the coach’s doorstep.

Not too far from Kgatleng, the red side of Gaborone is battling with a similar predicament. Gaborone United (GU)and Chiefs are birds of the same feather at the moment after spectacularly bombing out of the Mascom Top 8 at the first attempt. And their tales are similar too; GU lost investor, Nicholas Zakhem at the end of last season. But Zakhem softened the GU blow when he sponsored the club with P1 million for the 2016/2017 season.

Their coach, Rudolf Zapata finds himself in Mafu’s shoes, although the GU management has come out to back him, acknowledging underwhelming pre-season preparations as the cause for the poor start.

But Zapata is acutely aware that the brief pampering can turn ugly in an instant. TAFIC coach, Blessing Moyo, young brother to the late Benjamin knows how fragile their job is.

After getting TAFIC to a storming start in the First Division North, he lost one game against Maun Tigers and the fans immediately drew out the knives. But they were served humble pie when TAFIC went back to winning ways, including a 3-0 mauling of cross town rivals, ECCO City Greens.

“It’s a thankless job. You have to build a home for your family due to the unstable nature of the job. We are always on the road. What makes it painful is that at times you are fired by someone who is clueless about the job, they do not even appreciate that in football there are three results; a win, a draw and a lose,” Moyo, a holder of a CAF A licence said. He is a journeyman himself having already coached TAFIC (twice), Mogoditshane Fighters and Letlapeng is his budding career.

One of the most successful local coaches, and export to South Africa, David Bright said coaches ultimately pay the price even if it’s not their fault.

“Every job has its repercussions but coaching is the worst, which is why it is expensive to employ a coach. You can be fired anytime. But some think that coaches are fired only due to results. There are other factors, where management is to blame, interference in team selection and others. But as coaches we are aware that our heads are always on the block when results are not forthcoming,” Bright, who coaches Morupule Wanderers, said.

He said they chose the job aware of its pitfalls with the positive side being the good remuneration. Bright said to illustrate that coaches are not always to be blamed, one can be fired at Chiefs only for the same coach to excel at Rollers.

He said in Africa, where the job is particularly fraught with ‘firing dangers’, it is difficult to travel with your family to a new club.

“You can’t travel with your family in Africa. You have to relocate alone, we are nomads,” he said. Stanley Tshosane, who remains the only coach to take the Zebras to the Africa Cup of Nations finals, urged coaches not to “negotiate on an empty stomach.”

He said this is the reason why coaches sign contracts out of desperation.

“If you sign thinking of the stomach, you become desperate and clubs will take advantage. As for me I put forward my conditions before I sign a contract,” Tshosane, who has had a glittering career at both club and country level.

He also said for coaches to survive, they should work hard, invest and conduct themselves in a professional manner.

It would appear coaches are always on two legs and the management on four. George Orwell aptly captures the coach’s predicament in his political satire, Animal Farm where the animals had developed a maxim “Four legs good, two legs bad” in their fight against human beings but it was to change later to “Four legs good, two legs better” a switch which coaches hope will occur in their lifetime.

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