Sunday, 2 December 2012

Johan Neeskens: at last the brush-off for a doomed Dutch master

Now in traditional orange: the axed Johan Neeskens

WHEN “Joel the goal” Mogorosi was awarded the winner that wasn’t at themagnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday, Mamelodi Sundowns fans might rightly have expected a rapid response from their expensively-assembled squad, if only to save the career of their struggling head coach Johan Neeskens.

Instead, the bright orange Dutchman stood impotent and impatient as his time ran out against a far more reasonably priced Bloemfontein Celtic outfit, who never looked like losing their grip on the Telkom KO Cup.

Sure the goal wasn't over the line, but there was little question which team deserved victory. Neeskens can rant about mothers-in-law and off-form players all he wants, he proved again on Saturday he had long since "lost the dressing room" as the pundits like to say. He simply failed to get a response out of his billionaires, with the best and highest-paid of them, Elias Pelembe, languishing in the shadows.

A statement on the club's website from Sundowns president Patrice Motsepe said: “Johan Neeskens is a good coach whose experience and track record speaks for itself. He sacrificed and worked hard for the success of the Club. Johan will always have a special place at Mamelodi Sundowns and I wish him the very best with his future and career.”

“I am excited to welcome Pitso Mosimane to Mamelodi Sundowns and am confident that he will contribute to the success and growth of the Club. Pitso’s first major task is to ensure that we win games and finish in a respectable position in the Premier Soccer League, taking into account the very high standards we set for ourselves. Our current position on the log is extremely embarrassing and we have to restore the dignity and pride of Sundowns and our supporters.”

Our last public sighting of the Dutch master Neeskens, a 61-year-old World Cup finalist who won 49 caps and scored 17 goals for the Netherlands, was a distinctly shabby post-match interview with SuperSport’s bubbly Romy Titus.

When she asked him how disappointed his men were at losing to the sweating Siwelele, whose fans dominated a crowd of close to 33,000, he offered a snide sneer: “What do you think, you think they are not unhappy, they are not upset? I must see a replay of that goal. I don’t think it was over the line.”

It wasn’t. But given another below-par performance from the club ironically known as South Africa’s Brazilians, there was still justice of sorts on show.

It was a classic closing performance from a man who, apart from a brief spell in charge of NEC Nijmegen at the turn of the century, was rarely given the reigns as he played understudy to superior footballing brains like Guus Hiddink and Frank Rijkaard with Holland, Australia, Barcelona and even Turkey’s Galatasary.

He was introduced as the brain from Barca when Patrice Motsepe added him to the fabulously expensive Johan Cruyff academy at Chloorkop last year. It was a mistake Msandawana were to regret. Heavily. Some get away with dodgy CVs when they come to South Africa, but the history of Neeskens, littered with the words "assistant manager" told a telling truth.

Neeskens promised to resign if he ended his second season as he endured the first, without trophies. He didn’t of course. In the end Sundowns President Motsepe had to fire the Dutchman, a couple of months after fans had thrown bottles and vuvuzelas at him following another inexplicably poor performance at Dobsonville. We are told the club reached an "amicable settlement" with the flying Dutchman before he zipped off to Oliver Tambo International Airport. I suspect he left with a sizeable cheque in lieu of his remaining contract.

Neeskens is not the retiring type. Most other head coaches, having spent more than anybody else in their division only to languish in the relegation zone, might have considered calling it quits. Not Johan. Oh no. Always aloof, keen on being chauffeur-driven by his technical staff and ignoring those players who didn’t live up to his European standards, Neeskens carried on for months after his best-by date.

Like Mark Hughes at QPR, he leaves a club in serious trouble despite serious spending. Sure, Sundowns managed a couple of points in recent weeks – notably a second League win of the season against Telkom KO conquerors Celtic last week – but in truth, they have been in trouble ever since the devastating decline began when they toppled off the top of the PSL midway through last season.

Seven points clear a year ago before the AFCON break, the Brazilians went nuts and slumped out of contention, allowing Orlando Pirates to retain their trophy despite a huge early-season deficit.

Sundowns simply never recovered. A poor end to last season was followed by a disastrous start to this one, despite that opening 4-1 MTN8 triumph over Kaizer Chiefs, who now lead the PSL.

Neeskens should have gone weeks ago. Would have, if mining magnate Motsepe hadn’t been too distracted to notice the players were no longer responding to his brand mumbling motivation. How many of them actually understood the Dutchman's broken English? I guess we will never know.

On Sunday, some five hours after I first tweeted the initial whispers of his imminent departure, club spokesman Thulani Thuswa was first to confirm the wielding of the axe, saying: “I can confirm that coach Neskeens and the club have reached an amicable agreement to part ways. The club president, Patrice Motsepe, praised him for standing by the club even when times where tough.”

And now, anxious Sundowners surveying the sunset await the arrival of failed Bafana Bafana boss Mosimane, a former player who must replace or control a technical team with attitude led by Trott Moloto and a host of former playing stars. There is also the small matter of Katlego "Killer" Mphela's knee operation to worry about. The top scorer's been out all season, though having been an old favourite for Pitso's Bafana we can probably expect a miracle cure.

If succeeding Carlos Alberto Parreira in the South Africa hot seat was tough, Mosimane would do well to consider with some trepidation the ejector seat vacated by Neeskens. Money they have, and talent. More than enough to end the season in the top half despite an awful start. But of spirit, style and salvation there is little sign. 

Pitso has seen hard times, harder headlines before. I hope he’s ready for more.

SOME of this blog will appear as my Neal & Pray column in this week. Read South Africa's brightest paper every day...


  1. In his first season as coach, team scores the most league goals, gets a top 4 finish, gets into 2 cup finals in 7 months, broke a premiership record scoring 24 goals in a single fixture. Fired. The players will continue earning R400 000 per month, Pitso to be fired in 6months time.

  2. It's very hard to teach a bunch of degenerate overpayed footballers the inherit skills of basic football when they are so set in their ways. Throughout the entire PSL you find players waiting for the ball to be underfoot for them to plot their next move. Not even Pep Giardiola nor Jose Murinhio could even fix that.