|The eternal caretaker: Eric Tinkler|
RARELY has a successful continental campaign been so roundly condemned. Orlando Pirates astonishing trip to the CAF Confederations Cup final has confounded the Buccaneers’ one-eyed fans and stunned the media critics.
For months, the Ghost have haunted Eric Tinkler, the fall guy in a soap opera that has featured Roger de Sa and Vladimir Vermezovic over a torrid two year spell.
Ever since Irvin Khoza got rid of Ruud Krol just as he produced the first treble for Pirates, the Orlando giants have been weaving about all over the place.
Sure, Julio Leal and Augusto Palacios went on to claim a second treble (with a bit of help from one Benni McCarthy), then along came De Sa to engineer a run to the Champions League final which ended, as things normally do, in Egypt.
But Roger was never loved. He decamped to Cape Town and his assistant Tinkler played second fiddle to VV, the man who leaves players and fans in tears from Baragwanath to Belgrade.
When Khoza finally accepted the inevitable, Vlad the Sad was sent home and Tinkler took over as the eternal caretaker.
He pulled them out of the mire domestically and somehow managed to secure the Sea Robbers a place on the ship marked: Confederations Cup qualifiers.
And all winter, Tinkler has had to drag his weary men through the endless rounds of African football, with detoured flights and strange hotels, dusty training pitches and angry foreign crowds.
But against all the odds, Eric pushed in to the group stages and trailed Zamalek in to the semi-finals, a brand new innovation for the Confed Cup this season.
Now 45, Tinkler was a nuggety midfielder in the English top flight with Barnsley in his day. Unlike many South African coaches (and media analysts), he’s been there and played in Europe. While he struggled to produce results in the PSL, the African crusade went on…and on.
And so to the semi-final second leg at Suez on Sunday night. With Zamalek going out to Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel on Saturday, Al Ahly appeared to ignore the restrictions on the crowd and a lot more than the expected 2000 squeezed in to offer their support.
On the social networks, Tinkler was a dead man. A difficult first half had Pirates fans calling for his head. But hold on, said I, this is the plan. Even at 1-0 down, it was no disaster when half-time came.
I said he’d bring on Kermit Erasmus after 10mins and Tinkler did just that. Even though Al Ahly had scored a second goal, it didn’t matter. The crucial away goal on top of the 1-0 first leg win at Orlando meant that, when Erasmus scored his cracker not long after coming on, Pirates were in front.
And Al Ahly began to panic. They threw everything forward, trying to add to Malick Evouna’s brace. But it was Pirates who struck. Thami Gabuza’s deflected effort just about finished them off. Roving full-back Thabo Matlaba added a third.
And when Al Ahly scored their third, Thabo Rakhale, another shrewd Tinkler sub, popped up to make it 4-3 on the night, 5-3 on aggregate. Time up.
When did ANY club score FOUR in Egypt? With Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs going out before the Group Stages in the African Champions League, this wasn’t just a tactical master-class from Tinkler, it was a BLOODY MIRACLE.
And suddenly the social networks were as quiet as Al Ahly’s “banned” fans. Sir Eric Tinkler, take a bow. The critics are well and truly confounded. Jaust glad I was never one of them!