Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Bird-watching: A morning with Zeca Marques, MTN8 winner and all-round good guy

Trophy hunters: Chase Carneson, Zeca Marques and I at eTV Sunrise on Monday
WHEN Moroka Swallows boss Zeca Marques celebrated the Dube Birds’ flyaway 2-1 success in the MTN8 final on Saturday night, the sharp-eyed may have noticed a smiling Gordon Igesund in the background, gently clapping his hands in appreciation of a job well done.

While the busy little figure of Gavin Hunt was putting on a brave face after seeing his SuperSport United throw away a 1-0 lead, the stage belonged to Marques, who has now - officially - earned the nick-name Majazana for throwing his much-dry-cleaned jacket about in celebration.

I had the privilege of appearing with Marques, 51, on the eTV Sunrise couch yesterday morning; we discovered we’d played against each other in the 1980s, he for Troyeville, me for Berea Park. And we dug deep in to his footballing philosophy in the guest room while we waited to appear with the glittering MTN8 trophy.

Marques, born in Portugal but raised in Johannesburg, is keen on forging links with Porto, his hometown club, and he’s eager to send top young Swallows to Europe, while bringing useful young professionals to Dobsonville from abroad.

He wants to see a return to the days of local clubs drawing local crowds in local leagues. He wants to find centre-backs who know how to clear the ball, not get caught in possession. He is full of fresh ideas and positive energy.

But it’s when he talks about his team, his job, his new life, you start to realise what a special bloke Marques is: “I live by the three Fs,” he explains, “Firm, Fair, Friendly. I want my lads to enjoy training. I want them to see me as a father figure, not just a disciplinarian. The days of treating the players like robots is over.

“I sent them all a text yesterday and you should have seen their replies. What I realised, winning my first trophy after just two months in charge, is that we have a special family in the Bird’s nest. A spirit, a togetherness.” 

But Bafana Bafana boss Igesund, the man who took the Birds from fast-failing fledglings to title-tilting titans in less than a season, deserves a share of Saturday night’s success, the first since Swallows lifted the Nedbank Cup three years ago.

Though he was lured away to coach the national team during the off-season, Igesund can look proudly on a squad which includes so many of the rejects, veterans and cast-offs he forged in to a teak-tough team last season.

Marques, Igesund’s former No 2, said: “Gordon and I are friends. We talk all the time. Even though he is the international manager, we exchange advice both ways. Working under him was a vital step in my career.

“You can't change a winning formula. Youth is great, but you have to have balance. There's a vision with the club, and we know the older players won't last forever, so we're building the youngsters up slowly.”

And of course, Swallows are fashionable again. After years of flapping about in the footballing wilderness, Igesund and Marques have the Birds soaring again. Marques grinned: “People tended to forget about Swallows. “The Birds” has a lot of history but it’s been a while. 

“I think with this MTN8 win, the players can start believing. We can compete with ,  the best teams in the league, and we've got to believe that. 

“I have a technical team and they make my life easy. There's a game-plan for all of us. It's a new lease of life for the Swallows. This is not the last trophy we’ll bring to Dobsonville. It's just the first.”

A shorter version of this story appeared as my Neal and Pray column in The New Age newspaper today. Read The New Age every Tuesday, watch eTV Sunrise and eNCAnews every Monday - and in my new role as a radio producer, tune in to Early Breakfast on 702 and CapeTalk every day.

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