Monday, 31 December 2012

Looking back on 2012 with Jeff Maloi: and hoping for glory at AFCON 2013!

Talking to Jeff Maloi this morning, summing up South Africa's troubled 2012 and our hope for Gordon Igesund's Bafana Bafana at AFCON2013... plus a bit of Lionel Messi! You can get eNCAnews on DSTV channel 403 or Sky 518

In Gordon we trust: the 23 men who must do South Africa proud

Dream team: Gordon Igesund
Gordon Igesund’s big announcement did not disappoint. Sunday’s naming of South Africa’s squad of 23 for the African Cup of Nations left us shaken and stirred.

For Moeneeb Joseph, the Orlando Pirates goalkeeper who featured in Igesund’s first Bafana squad in Brazil barely four months ago, a gaping chasm appeared between January 19 and February 10.

But for his Buccaneering replacement Senzo Meyiwa, AFCON 2013 will be a reality, though Itumeleng Khune remains in charge of the gloves.

For two of the nation’s biggest names – Teko Modise of Mamelodi Sundowns and Sea Robber Andile Jali – Igesund could find no opening. Sifiso Myeni, Siyanda Xulu, Daine Klate and Riccardo Nunes, all new recruits to Bafana, were left disappointed too.
But Platinum Stars’ 26-year-old attacking midfielder Thuso Phala appeared from nowhere after guiding his unfashionable Crocodiles to the PSL’s Q2 bonus and May Mahlangu, Sweden’s player of the season, got his foot in the door too.

And there was even a place for Katlego “Killer" Mphela – no relation to adidas’s Katlego football launched for this tournament – despite an injury which has reduced him to four appearances and two goals for Mamelodi Sundowns this season.

Just before I went on eNews on Sunday to discuss a squad which sent a tsunami across the social networks, I got hold of Gordon to talk about his “dream team”.

After a morning which saw my #ingordwetrust hash tag dominant, Igesund was still riding the wave. And most importantly, he appears to have no doubts about 23-man squad which kicks off against lowly Cape Verde at The National Stadium (aka FNB Stadium and Soccer City) 19 days’ time.

He laughed: “This is a fantastic team, I have complete confidence in these lads. For the fans, it’s easy to say I should pick this player of that player. But to those who keep asking why Joe Soap isn’t in the team, I can only say 10 different coaches would give you 10 different squads.

“Look, only time will tell if I’ve made the right decisions… but we’ve been in camp, we’ve seen the players. There have been some sleepless nights, some very marginal decisions. But now I have no doubts in my mind.”

Amid calls for a six-week amnesty on club fanaticism, it’s worth pointing out PSL leaders Kaizer Chiefs have a record SEVEN players in the squad – alongside the same number of foreign-based stars. Orlando Pirates are second with four and Mamelodi Sundowns, after the disastrous reign of Johan Neeskens, offer just two of their highly-paid stars. Igesund of course, will be fighting for his future.

Failure to qualify on home soil from a group which features the Cape Verdians, Morocco and Angola could spell the end for a reign which began with a 1-0 defeat against Brazil in Sao Paulo on September 7.

But we can only take the word of the man himself as Modise and Jali fade in to the sunset with big names injuries like Benni McCarthy, Morgan Gould and Tower Mathoho: “I believe I have selected the cream of the crop in South African football at this point in time.”

To the cynics who refuse to join the chorus of approval, pointing to South Africa's early exit from the World Cup in 2010, I say this: Mexico, Uruguay and France were a lot tougher than Cape Verde, Angola and Morocco. And even then, Bafana were the width of a post from qualification. It's time to back the nation. In Gordon We Trust.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

SAFA match-fixing: pre-World Cup naivety or serious corruption?

My take on the SAFA match-fixing allegations. Note: Bafana players are EXONERATED... and Wilson Raj Perumal's indiscretions first came to light a year AFTER he organised South Africa's pre-World Cup friendlies.

How Soccer City was saved: a wunch of bankers sees sense before AFCON 2013

My interview with Gareth Edwards on eNCAnews featured an appeal to FNB over the naming of Soccer City, venue of the opening – and closing – games of AFCON 2013. Within hours, the bankers had agreed to renaming “The National Stadium” allowing Bafana Bafana v Cape Verde to go ahead on January 19. FIFA and CAF won’t allow “sponsored” stadiums in their tournaments.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Giants beware: Platinum-enriched Stars go to the top of the Q

First class coach: Cavin Johnson of Platinum Stars
On a weekend where Roger de Sa closed gaps and Stuart Baxter wore gags, there is only one coach more newsworthy. Cavin Johnson of Platinum Stars.
I first heard about his current club, shock winners of the R1.5m Q2 bonus on Sunday, back in 2009. I wondered when they’d start to hit the peaks then.
As an Evening Standard journalist over from London covering the England v Proteas cricket tour, I’d taken a couple of days off to track down England’s under-construction Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus somewhere between Boshoek and Rustenburg, not far from Sun City.
Luck rather than judgement led to me to a crumbling hotel opposite the magnificent Kedar Lodge on a small backroad off the N4. And there, I found the roots of the current successful but generally unfashionable Dikwena.
Amid the frantic building before the World Cup, I unearthed a chap called Martin Becker, a former St Stithians boy who worked – with some gusto – for King Leruo, otherwise known as Kgosi Leruo Tshekedi Molotlegi (born in 1968, ruler since 2000), the 36th monarch of the Royal Bafokeng Nation.
 A sporty former Hilton College victor ludorum in the 1980s, Leruo is President of the Mineral Rights Association of Indigenous People of South Africa, has a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from Natal University and is an Honorary Colonel in the South African Air Force.
His “first contact” Becker, often referring to the Bafokeng people as “we” and “our”, explained how King Leruo had utilised the mineral rights of the platinum-rich soil surrounding us to ease his way on to the local foreign mining boards, earning huge dividends and chunks of foreign companies. His predecessors had simply taken a share of the profits.
And as the World Cup approached and visits over the next six months continued, I learned how the wily monarch, whose great-grandfather had signed future rights to his land on the advice of a top-hatted bloke called Paul Kruger, had funded not just the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace stadium but had also attracted the Leopards rugby team and the local footballing Crocodiles, the Dikwena.
That’s not all he does of course. He also provides a hot meal every day for every school child in his 14,000 square kilometre kingdom and provides them with one of five sporting activities every day. Though mining has had it’s troubles locally with migrant labour, the Phokeng people enjoy the benefits of living on platinum-soaked land.
Becker showed me a 35-year plan which pointed the way ahead for the kingdom, with the newly-built sports campus turned in to a High Performance Centre to rival Pretoria and Potchefstroom, high school matriculants outperforming all rivals and, incredibly, even plans for a future Olympic games.
And in the middle of this mighty platinum-enriched portfolio? The team once known as Khakhu Fast XI, an amateur outfit formed in 1937 170km north-east of Polokwane, then Pietersburg.
In 1998, owner Joseph “Tycoon” Mapfulagasha took the team 30 km south to Mapate and they became the Silver Stars. At the turn of the century, the Silver Stars forged a link with the old white club Highlands Park with Larry Brookstone purchasing half the club.
After four years in the National First Division, Silver Stars were promoted to the PSL in 2003–04 ending 11th, 7th and 5th in their first three seasons in South Africa’s top flight.
And that’s where King Leruo stepped in. In 2006, the Royal Bafokeng Nation signed a sponsorship deal with Silver Stars and the club moved home from Peter Mokabe in Polokwane to the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace.
That season, they beat Ajax Cape Town 3–1 in the first Telkom Knockout league cup final an finished second in the PSL. King Leruo promptly bought 51 percent fo the shares and changed the club’s name to Platinum Stars.
In 2008, Platinum Stars became the first South African side to beat the Egypt’s continental giants Al Ahly, though their 2-1 home leg triumph in the African Champions League was overturned in Cairo.
That season, they finished 10th in the PSL, 13th in 2008–09 and 14th in 2009–10. The Royal Bafokeng Nation brought the rest of the club’s shares from Brookstone and Mapfulagasha in November 2008, and moved training and administration from Modderfontein Sports Club in Johannesburg to the sparkling Bafokeng Sports Campus.
Head coach Owen de Gama came and went amid considerable fuss and the club turned to little-known former Mamelodi Sundowns assistant coach Johnson this season – and Dikwena have hardly looked back.
The Q2-clinching 1-0 win against Gavin Hunt’s hardy SuperSport on Saturday was their ninth win in ten and they are now just one point behind overall PSL leaders Kaizer Chiefs.
Johnson insists: "I think it's still early to start thinking about the title, we are building for the future, a trophy would be a bonus.
"Our main objective is to bring more bums on seats at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium and the only way to do that is to play exciting football. This is what we are currently doing, trying to bring in more supporters."
If he carries on the way he is, Johnson may just manage that. With a little help from King Leruo and the Platinum-enriched Bafokeng.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

The rise of Platinum Stars: how they finished TOP of Q2

Stars rising: Dikwena celebrate their 1-0 win over SuperSport on Saturday

SO this is how Platinum Stars, once known as Silver Stars and before that Khakhu Fast XI (established in 1937) got to earn the R1.5m prize for winning the second quarterly PSL prize for topping the Q2 table by a single point from unbeaten champions Orlando Pirates.

I'll be running a full story on the history of Dikwena as my Neal and Pray column in The New Age on Tuesday, but suffice to say they are now just a point behind leaders Kaizer Chiefs in the full PSL table.

With Moroka Swallows losing 2-1 at Bloemfontein Celtic today, the bottom of Q2 belongs to the flightless Dube Birds with Zeca Marques lamenting in Mangaung today: "We shouldn't have lost that one. It's down to individual mistakes... you can't coach that."

Team                       Played   Won      Draw    Lost   GF    GA       GD    Points
Platinum Stars       7             6             0         1       14           7             7         18
Orlando Pirates     7             5             2         0       13           3            10        17
Kaizer Chiefs        7             4             2         1        13           7             6         14
Free State Stars   7             4             2          1          7           4             3        14
MamSundowns     7             3             3          1          8           6             2         12
Maritzburg U        7             3             1          3          7           6             1         10
Bloem Celtic         7             3             1          3          6            6            0         10
SuperSport U         7             1             4         2          9             9           0           7
Chippa United      7             1             4          2          8            9            -1          7
AmaZulu               7             1             4          2          5            6            -1          7
AmaTuks              7             1             4          2          4            5            -1          7
Golden Arrows     7             2             1          4         10          13           -3          7
Ajax Cape Town  7             2             1         4          5            10           -5         7
Black Leopards   7             2             1         4          5            10           -5          7
Bidvest Wits        7             1             3         3          4             7             -3         6
Moroka Swallows 7             0             1         6          6            16           -10        1

The eight-match Q3 battle kicks-off on Tuesday with Kaizer Chiefs playing at Soccer City against resurgent AmaZulu and declining Maritzburg United against AmaTuks at the Harry Gwala before the AFCON break.
More on this and an in-depth look at Platinum Stars in my Neal and Pray column in The New Age on Tuesday.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Zeca Marques: when one of the nice guys bites the dust

Hero to Zero: Zeca Marques looks on in horror against SSU on Friday

Perhaps the thing you need to understand first about Moroka Swallows boss Zeca Marques is that he is ONE OF THE NICE GUYS.

And having been given two games to save his career with the Dube Birds yesterday, that might have to change.

I first came across Zeca as a youngster playing at right back for a no-nonsense team called Troyeville. Nice lad in a bunch of teak-tough Portuguese footballers. In goal? That would be a far more bellicose keeper by the name of Roger de Sa.

While De Sa has never been one to keep his views – or his temper – to himself, Marques was an unassuming but competent defender, a one-club man. We renewed acquaintance at eTV Sunrise earlier this year when his Swallows side had won the MTN8 trophy with AmaZulu, Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United crushed in quick succession.

Most people expected the departure of Gordon Igesund to lead to a rapid decline at Dobsonville. We expected another tough bloke, Birds’ CEO Leon Prins, to choose a big name replacement like Ruud Krol, instead he opted for the quiet No2, Marques.

With Katlego Mashego, Lerato Chabangu and Bennett Chenene banging in the goals, Ajax Cape Town and champions Orlando Pirates were dispatched in the League as the MTN8 run became a glorious charge.

Sadly, from that cup-lifting start, Swallows have fallen away. Their 3-1 defeat against SuperSport on Friday night was labelled “pathetic” by Prins and a run of eight games without a win has seen the flightless Birds plummet to 12th in the PSL, just three points above the bottom feeders, Chippa United and AmaZulu.

Marques himself said on Friday night after his side crumbled to the same SuperSport team they conquered 2-1 in the MTN final on September 22: "Even Gavin Hunt was surprised by the way his side won. The way we are conceding goals is unacceptable. You can coach players but there are some other things players need to take responsibility for themselves, like the basics!"

But I remember vividly at eTV all those weeks ago, when he told me: “You can’t treat all players the same, some of them will be late, some don’t like to train. You have to be sensitive to each player’s attitudes, you have to be a team. I want my squad to be happy, what’s the point of playing football if you’re not enjoying it?”

It struck me then that Marques might find that relaxed attitude less successful than Igesund’s style, which saw a relegation-threatened collection of rejects come so close to glory last season.

With rumours of Marques’ demise growing, Prins said today on the club’s website: “We will not be rushed in to a knee-jerk reaction, but I’d be lying if I said we are not alarmed and concerned. After a very successful 24 months for the club the wheels have spectacularly come off over the past two months.

 “After an embarrassing performance, gifting SuperSport, who did not even play well on the night, a victory, the head coach, who is a gentleman and only has the best interests of Moroka Swallows at heart, offered to me to step aside to minimise the risk to the club going forward.

“We as management have not accepted this offer; the reason being that we are all intimately involved with what goes on behind the scenes in terms of preparation, strategic analysis, input and instructions to the players, and so on.

“This very talented and capable bunch of players have, for various reasons, not the least the loss of focus after becoming MTN8 champions, let themselves, their supporters, the club and the coaching staff down. We have all resolved to turn it around together.

 “In addition, there are only two games before the long break for AFCON 2013, and any knee-jerk decision-making in our view would be strategically unsound at this time.”

 “Everyone at Swallows continues with my full support, but are well-aware that we are on high alert and monitoring the situation closely for the next two games.”

Prins apparently spent Monday getting the views of his board, with Ruud Krol and Muhsin Ertugal among the contenders to step in at Dobsonville if Marques fails to turn things around with six points against .

It’s been two months since they last won – against Free State Stars on October 8 – and with the season not even at the halfway point, the fans have made their feelings clear. “Marques must go” was the chant on Friday night. One of the nice guys, it appears, is about to bite the dust.

One last blast before the holidays with Ballz visual radio

Monday, 10 December 2012

A tale of two derbies: Manchester and Soweto send their mighty table-toppers out to grass

Give a little whistle: Referee Robert Smith and Pirate Andile Jali
MANCHESTER and Soweto. Two football-mad communities 5,773 miles or 9 288km apart. At first glance they have just presented us with a pair of dazzling derbies, pitting two of the biggest clubs in their respective nations against each other.

Take One: At Soccer City on Saturday, in front of 90,000, champions Orlando Pirates took on the nation’s most popular club, Kaizer Chiefs, trailing their Soweto rivals by three points in the South African PSL.

Take Two: At the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, in front of 60,000, champions City  took on the nation’s most popular club, United, trailing their Manchester rivals by three points in the English Premier League.

We could go on and on about the similarities. Both were games of two halves. Pirates dominated the first half of the Soweto derby, Chiefs the second as they came back to draw 1-1.

United dominated the first half of the Manchester derby, City the second as they came back from 2-0 down to 2-2.

Both referees were roundly condemned for a series of bizarre decisions. Both Manchester United’s Ashley Young and Orlando Pirates’ Collins Mbesuma had goals disallowed for off-side decisions that were to prove entirely spurious.

But then we come to the vital difference, the essential factor. In Manchester, both sides were looking for a winner until the final gasp of derby-drenched air. In Soweto, once Lehlohonolo Majoro had equalised Mbesuma’s opener, Kaizer Chiefs boss Stuart Baxter simply shut up shop, he was happy with a point.

Had substitute Benni McCarthy’s late volley roared in to the top of the net rather than just over the bar, it would have been a game to savour. Instead, with the nation and ESPN Star Sport’s international millions watching, we had to wait for never-say-die Platinum Stars to register an astonishing 6-4 over Golden Arrows to boast about the prolific goal-scoring of the PSL. And by then the international audience was gone, not to mention the domestic viewers, forced to endure AmaTuks 1, Chippa United 0.

In Manchester, Roberto Mancini, having dragged off the eternally angry Mario Balotelli, had thrown Carlos Tevez in to the fray (why he started with the Italian instead of the Argentinian we shall never know), much as Roger de Sa turned to McCarthy. It worked as City came back from the two first half Wayne Rooney goals to level through Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta with seven minutes remaining.

But through it all, we had ignored the single most important factor on the pitch. The presence of former Arsenal top-scorer Robin van Persie. When all seemed lost for United, Sir Alex Ferguson got up and gave us a septuagenarian version of Gangnam Style when Robin’s free-kick went in off cowering former Gunner team-mate Samir Nasri in the last minute.

It all went haywire after that, with Rio Ferdinand cut above the eye by a coin-throwing home fan – we all know Manchester City tend to throw money at their problems these days – and police stepped in to arrest the villain plus a pitch invader and a racist chanter as the derby came to a drama-soaked conclusion.

Sir Alex Ferguson summed it up pretty well afterwards, as he generally does: “It was a fantastic game; you couldn’t take your eyes off it.”

And that’s the point. Sure, Martin Atkinson in Manchester and Robert Smith in Soweto will be scrutinised for some dodgy decisions. The top of the table battles will be picked apart. All four coaches know the race is far from run. But the truth is, too many South African games don’t go down to the wire, the last drip of perspiration.

I felt last season that both Serbian Vladimir Vermezovic at Kaizer Chiefs and Brazilian Julio Leal at Orlando Pirates tended to treat games as “don’t lose” rather than “must win” situations. This season the surprising Baxter and his counterpart De Sa have been a lot more positive.

But what the PSL and their global audience needed on Saturday was a stirring final 20 minutes of “win or bust” from both coaches, throwing everything forward to clinch a vital three points against their closest and biggest rivals.

Instead, the experienced match-winner McCarthy aside, we had two teams scared to disappoint. It’s understandable. But it takes the edge of what could be the best league in Africa.

Sure, Katlego Mphela’s miracle Pitso Mosimane cure (apparently he was suffering from a sore Kneeskens) is worth debating after his comeback goal for Sundowns against Leopards. And we should talk about my beloved AmaZulu picking up a surprise point against Wits.

But it truth my plea is this: Go for glory with gusto. Like Everton did on Sunday against Spurs. Steven Pienaar got one of their two last-gasp goals in a 2-1 triumph when everything looked lost against his former club. According to the British Express over the weekend, Schillo is still mulling over a return to the Bafana Bafana ranks for AFCON 2013 next month.

But that’s a story for next week. This week’s lesson is: it’s never over until big Benni sings.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Latest Q2 standings after today's Soweto Derby and Platinum Stars tennis match

Take that: Collins Mbesuma scored the opening goal  at Soccer City yesterday

This is how the PSL Q2 table contenders look SIX games in, two to go for the second R2.5m bonus of the season.

Platinum Stars came back from 4-2 down to beat struggling Golden Arrows - under new management with Manqoba Mngqithi - 6-4.

Dikwena are now within three points of PSL Leaders Kaizer Chiefs and level on points with second-placed Orlando Pirates. It was their eighth win in nine games.

Norman Smith, Musa Bilankulu (brace) and Bhekisizwe Nkosi were all on the scoresheet for Arrows, while the home side netted through Henrico Botes (two), Mogakolodi Ngele (two). With time up, the sides were locked at 4-4 before late goals from Siphelele Mthembu and Thuso Phala.

Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates shared the points at Soccer City with Collins Mbesuma - as he did for Zambia at the same venue - putting the first goal past Itumeleng Khune.

Mbesuma had a second goal wrongly ruled out for offside before Stuart Baxter's table-toppers produced a neat equaliser from Lehlohonolo Majoro.

A spectacular volley from sub Benni McCarthy narrowly failed to break the deadlock with both Baxter and Pirates boss Roger de Sa complaining about referee Robert Smith's officiating after the final whistle.

Baxter said: “I don’t know about everybody else, but I just would have liked to see stronger officiating because that gives us a better game of football. I was upset, Roger was upset, even the referee seemed upset, but I would have liked stronger officiating."
De Sa said: “I saw their number 31 [Willard Katsande] make five horrendous tackles and not get booked; our first tackle got a booking. I also saw a pass back for the disallowed goal. I know Stuart asked for a firm referee but, well… I’m not a referee.”

Tower Mathoho was named man of the match for another stirring performance at the heart of the AmaKhosi defence - and a powerful long-distance strike on goal.

Pirates remain unbeaten in the second quarter but their midweek 0-0 draw with Chippa United means they are toppled in the Q2 race by Platinum Stars, who have won FIVE out of six and are now third in the PSL table. 

In Tshwane, AmaTuks produced a last-gasp 1-0 win over struggling Chippa United thanks to a James Okwuosa own goal.

1 Platinum Stars        6..5..0..1..13..7..15
2 Orlando Pirates      6..4..2..0..11..2..14
3 Kaizer Chiefs          6..4..1..1..12..6..13
Mburg United         6..3..1..2..6..4..10  

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...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cheeky monkey: Mark Clattenburg finally gets his whistle back tomorrow night

Black mark: Clattenburg and Mikel

MARK CLATTENBURG will return to refereeing tomorrow night for the first time since his outrageous exhibition of wayward whistling at Stamford Bridge on October 28.

But while the 37-year-old from Newcastle goes back to work, Chelsea’s Nigeria international John Obi Mikel faces a charge of misconduct from the English Football Association, with the outcome expected later this week.

Though Chelsea have yet to recover from Clattenburg’s machinations nearly a month ago, the referee in question was the fourth official at White Hart Lane for Tottenham’s win over West Ham on Sunday.

And Clattenburg will be in possession of the whistle for the first time when Norwich travel to Southampton tomorrow night. It is unlikely he will use the word “monkey” at any point.

The FA’s official website says simply: "Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel has been charged by The FA for an alleged breach of FA Rule E3 in relation to his side’s game against Manchester United on 28 October 2012.

"It is alleged that in or around the Match Officials’ changing room at the end of the fixture, Mikel used threatening and/or abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour.”

Mikel has not denied the charge – in fact, he wants a personal hearing to explain the circumstances surrounding the matter. He has until Friday to do that. Why does he want a hearing? Because he feels aggrieved. He feels he was right. He heard the racist word “monkey” used by the referee.

I believe Mikel heard Clattenburg used the classic Geordie expression “cheeky monkey” though some suggest he said “I don’t give a monkey’s” during the match.

And several sources report Clattenburg calling Juan Mata “Spanish twat” when things became heated late in the game.

Those expressions sound worse in isolation than they do in print. “Cheeky monkey” is by no means a racist insult, it is generally used affectionately towards children in Britain, though few would dream of using those words where a Nigerian midfield enforcer is concerned.

As for “I don’t give a monkey’s”, that’s a post-war phrase meaning “I couldn’t care less” which has largely fallen into disuse south of the Tyne.

“Spanish twat” is probably the worst of the allegations, though it would be difficult to accuse Clattenburg of racism over that particular nationalistic outburst, all part of his chatty refereeing style.

So Clattenburg has been “cleared of any wrongdoing”. The FA say: "We have concluded the investigation into alleged misconduct by Mark Clattenburg during the match between Chelsea FC and Manchester United FC on Sunday 28 October 2012. No disciplinary action will follow against Mr Clattenburg.”

But how is it that Clattenburg, a referee who has a history of bad debt, bad tempered emails and bad decisions, escaped unpunished from what Chelsea clearly believe was a clear case of abuse against TWO of their players – Mikel and Mata? To the point where chairman Bruce Buck has apologised in person and compensation may have to be paid?

After all, Chelsea have yet to recover from the events of that fateful last-gasp 3-2 defeat against Manchester United. They haven’t won a game since, they’ve crashed off the top of the Premier League and out of the Champions League.

And to cap it all, miraculous European conqueror Roberto di Matteo has been sacked as coach in the aftermath, replaced amid loud boos by unloved former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.

Clattenburg sent off two Blues – Branislav Ivanovic and, more controversially for diving, Fernando Torres – and awarded United an off-side winner before finding himself confronted by the usually phlegmatic Buck and several others in his dressing room after the match, where the accusations of abuse flew.

Initially, Chelsea wanted action taken against Clattenburg for verbally abusing both Mata and Mikel, but on October 31, they chose to pursue the matter on behalf of Mikel alone.

The FA statement on that read: "On Wednesday 31 October Chelsea FC contacted The FA and confirmed that the club had conducted an internal enquiry and that they did wish to proceed with a formal complaint in relation to one of the allegations of abuse. The club did not wish to proceed in relation to the other allegation. The club provided witness statements from two players, Ramires Santos do Nascimento (“Ramires”) and John Obi Mikel.”

Ramires and Mikel were interviewed by The FA on November 5 where the FA also used video footage of the match. Chelsea provided "unbroadcast television coverage of the game from static cameras" which The FA showed Ramires when he was re-interviewed on November 15.

The FA also revealed that its findings showed that Ramires' first language is not English and that Mikel "was much closer to the referee than Ramires and did not hear what it is suggested was said to him."

The three other match officials, who were also witnesses in the case, said Clattenburg did not utter the "alleged words" via their communication gadgets. But would Mikel and Mata have reported the words if they hand’t been uttered? I doubt it.

Though Sir Alex Ferguson leapt to Clattenburg’s defence – insisting with absolutely no basis that Clattenburg would “never do that” – there can be no question a display of very poor refereeing was punctuated by very poorly chosen words.

But the FA appear to feel that doesn’t matter. Punishing Mikel for his righteous indignation does. Do 
they give a monkey’s?

Monday, 26 November 2012

Roger and OUT: why Palmgren had to part ways with AmaZulu

Swede dreams: Roger Palmgren

AMAZULU reacted swiftly to their weekend plunge back to the foot of the PSL – by finally sacking Swedish head coach Roger Palmgren.
The final straw came on Sunday, when Mamelodi Sundowns finally registered their second win of the season to creep off the bottom, courtesy of a 1-0 win at Bloemfontein Celtic.
AmaZulu went down 1-0 to Free State Stars at the Moses Mabhida and despite a recent resurgence of sorts – they stand 11th in the Q2 table with a win over AmaTuks and a draw against Sundowns last week – management was forced to act.
Usuthu General Manager Peter O’Connor said on the club website: “We met with Roger and advised him that his services have been terminated with immediate effect and informed the players and the technical team of what has happened.
“Fani Madida will be caretaker coach until we have announced the new coach which will hopefully be will soon.”
Under the Swede this season, AmaZulu recorded two League wins - but one of them came while Palmgren was on leave attending a family bereavement in Sweden.
Palmgren’s career has been largely African based with his spells in charge of the Sierra Leone national side dominating a CV which also features the DR Congo and Rwanda before he arrived in South Africa in 2009 to take over at Thanda Royal Zulu.
Palmgren told yesterday: “I’ve been replaced, some changes had to be made. I’m quite disappointed, we had a record season last season but this season I didn’t get the players I wanted.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved and we’ve produced a lot of talent. This season didn’t go well from the start, but that’s football.”
Madida will probably be in charge for the December 5 clash at Leopards as AmaZulu attempt to improve on a record of 12 games, two wins, three draws and seven defeats.
Despite last Wednesday’s draw at Sundowns, Palmgren – who still boasts Bafana’s veteran AFCON  winning coach Clive Barker on his staff – must have known it was only a matter of time before AmaZulu did what rock-bottom QPR did to Mark Hughes in the English Premier League last week.
Palmgren is not the winner of the PSL sack race this season – he trails in a distant sixth behind  Maarten Stekelenberg (Ajax Cape Town), Roger Sikhakane and Mngqithi (both Chippa United), Muhsin Ertugral (Golden Arrows) and Augusto Palacios (Orlando Pirates).
This story also appears with my regular Tuesday Neal & Pray column in tomorrow.
The PSL Q2 table appears below:
1 Orlando Pirates    4..4..0..0..10..1..12
Mburg United       4..3..1..0..6..2..10 
3 Kaizer Chiefs        4..3..0..1..8..5..9
4 Plat Stars                4..3..0..1..6..3..9

5 FS Stars                  4..2..1..1..3..2..7 
6 Bloem Celtic          4..2..0..2..3..3..6
7 Leopards                 4..2..0..2..3..6..6 
8 Chippa Utd            4..1..2..1..7..6..5
9 Sundowns              4..1..2..1..4..5..5

10 Ajax CT                 4..1..1..2..4..5..4
11 Amazulu                4..1..1..2..2..3..4
12 Wits                        4..1..1..2..3..5..4
13 SuperSport U       4..0..3..1..5..6..3 

14 AmaTuks               4..0..2..2..2..4..2 
15 Swallows                4..0..1..3..4..9..
16 Arrows                    4..0..1..3..2..7..1 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

By popular demand: the PSL Q2 table. And yes, Pirates are top, Arrows are bottom.

This is how the PSL Q2 table looks four games in, halfway to the second R2.5m bonus of the season:

1 Orlando Pirates    4..4..0..0..10..1..12
Mburg United       4..3..1..0..6..2..10 
3 Kaizer Chiefs        4..3..0..1..8..5..9 
4 Plat Stars                4..3..0..1..6..3..9

5 FS Stars                  4..2..1..1..3..2..7 
6 Bloem Celtic          4..2..0..2..3..3..6
7 Leopards                 4..2..0..2..3..6..6 
8 Chippa Utd            4..1..2..1..7..6..5 
9 Sundowns              4..1..2..1..4..5..5

10 Ajax CT                 4..1..1..2..4..5..4
11 Amazulu                4..1..1..2..2..3..4
12 Wits                        4..1..1..2..3..5..4
13 SuperSport U       4..0..3..1..5..6..3 

14 AmaTuks               4..0..2..2..2..4..2 
15 Swallows                4..0..1..3..4..9..
16 Arrows                    4..0..1..3..2..7..1 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Why the Telkom KO showdown between Sundowns and Celtic on December 1 HAS to be the Teko Modise final

Cup jinx: Teko Modise, 29, has yet to win a major trophy

AFTER two enthralling semis there is only one way to tag the Telkom Knock-out showdown on December 1 between miraculous Mamelodi Sundowns and blooming Bloemfontein Celtic: it’s the Teko Modise final.

On Saturday night, Msandawana defied their status as the PSL’s worst side this season, holding off Gavin Hunt’s bus-parking, bar-busting SuperSport United 1-0 in Polokwane.

The Peter Mokaba Stadium was treated to a cup tie of the highest order as Johan Neeskens prowled the touchline knowing that, despite his legendary Dutch pedigree, he should have left Chloorkop weeks ago.

After just 15 minutes, the enigmatic Eleazar Rodgers, picked up by Sundowns when Santos were relegated last year, latched on to the end of the improving Anthony Laffor’s cross to score the only goal of the game.

From there on in, it was a case of draw-specialist Hunt – with a win, a loss and eight wins in the PSL – trying to unpark his bus and find a route to an equaliser against relegation-haunted opposition.

It so nearly came in the dying moments with SuperSport hitting the bar and having a penalty appeal turned down, but a relieved Neeskens said afterwards: “I must give my boys a big compliment, I think they deserved it. We saw an exciting game with both teams competitive. They have only lost one game in the league.

“In the second half they put more people upfront, so it was difficult to defend - they were unlucky to hit the crossbar. I think it is a terrific result and it will give everybody a boost.”

The bustling ball of energy which is Hunt was predictably less enthusiastic: “I’m disappointed not to reach the final,” he growled, “Decisions haven’t been going for us lately. We came so close, we should have had a penalty.

“It was an exciting semi-final. But we have to pick ourselves up now and get on with it.”

If Polokwane was exciting, the Charles Mopeli Stadium in Qua-Qua was soon renamed Kwaaa-Kwaaa as local rivals Bloemfontein Celtic took the lead twice in normal time (Letladi Madubanya and sub Lerato Manzini) only for Free State stars to peg them back with two well taken goals from Dove Wome.

In the end, it was the irrepressible Botswana striker Joel Mogorosi who decided the match in extra-time, his long-range header just beaten the out-stretched arms of Zambia’s AFCON winning goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene in the Stars goal.

Mweene, injured when teenagers stoned the Zambia bus after their midweek 1-0 win over Bafana Bafana at Soccer City, said: "I was fit. Luckily I was not too badly hurt. They were only youngsters, but these things should not happen. Thank God it wasn't serious. But I was ready to play and I'm disappointed not to make the final."

With head coach Clinton Larsen banned after his red card against Maritzburg United, Boebie Solomons took the post-match plaudits for Celtic, beaming: “They kept coming back at us but we never gave up. They equalised twice but we always came up with another goal.”

For Stars boss Steve Komphela, the only man in South African football capable of talking Gavin Hunt under the table, it was nearly too much: “I am so disappointed. Football is such a strange game. It makes you so excited.

“My belly was full of tension, it was so full I could burst. So I had to kick a chair to relieve the stress.”

And with Katlego Cambridge Mashego breaking his leg in two places, Komphela said: “Football is like a war, there are casualties. There are no prisoners of war. We will miss him.”

And so to the final on December 1. The venue has yet to be decided but with Charles Mopeli not attracting many pre-match pop concerts, the surface was good, the crowd loud… so perhaps we could look forward to another Kwaaa-Kwaaa showdown. The Orlando Stadium remains favourite, though Moses Mabhida and Nelson Mandela Bay have both been mooted.

And in the background looms the figure of Teko Modise, the Sundowns midfielder who holds the dubious distinction of being the best modern South African footballer NOT to have won a trophy.

Modise was picked up by SuperSport United  after winning the Mvela Golden League Player of the Season while playing for City Pillars during the 2005/2006 season. After two seasons with Matsatsantsa a Pitori when they finished 6th and 7th in the PSL, he was spotted by Orlando Pirates.

But while he was strutting his stuff for the Buccaneers and winning Player of the Year awards in 2008 and 2009, Teko had to be content with seeing SuperSport United win three titles in a row.

Then, when he left for Sundowns after a fall-out with Ruud Krol, the Buccaneers won two successive trebles after Modise's depature. Meanwhile Daine Klate, in direct contrast, had won FIVE titles on the trot with SuperSport and Pirates. All of which led, predictably, to talk of a Modise trophy jinx.

After his side crashed out of this season’s MTN8 against Moroka Swallows, Modise said: "It's very disappointing. We can't be talking about this same thing year after year."

This time, with Modise back to something approaching his best, won’t just be about Msandawana and Phunya Sele Sele. It will be the Teko Modise final. And I think the trophy-winning jinx may soon be at an end.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Pirates and punishment: Why clubs MUST take responsibility for their unruly fans

Fan trouble: at the Orlando Stadium in August

THERE was a football story which very nearly slipped under the radar this week, a tale far more worrying than Bafana's 1-0 defeat against AFCON champions Zambia or Banyana's final 4-0 CAF defeat against those dodgy gals from Equatorial Guinea.

Very quietly, a day after announcing their “learning centre” to help the local community, Orlando Pirates took their case over fan behaviour to arbitration, claiming the Buccaneers CANNOT be blamed for the behaviour of their Ghostly fans.

It might not sound important. Especially when you consider the club run by the PSL chairman - Irvin Khoza was re-elected unopposed last week - announced on the same day they were closing their youth academy due to concerns over age cheating.

All in all, with two fans arrested for stoning the Zambia team bus outside Soccer City, it hasn't been a great week for South African football. SAFA CEO Robin Petersen remains on the brink of being re-deployed and livewire Malmo striker Tokelo Rantie could be OUT of AFCON after going off injured against the Zambians.

But it's the reluctance of the Iron Duke to accept his club's liability for the behaviour of their fans which is of serious concern, with the African Cup of Nations kicking off here on January 19 when Bafana play the Cape Verde Islands.

The thing is, Pirates tend to see themselves as above the law these days. The case in point - trouble during last season's Telkom KO final against Wits - is not the only problem. I was at the Orlando Stadium when serious trouble halted their MTN quarter-final against SuperSport United.

I stood among the Ghost while referee Robert Smith was forced to suspend the game briefly when fireworks were throw - and then scurried to safety when the whistle went and fans invaded the pitch, furious about Smith’s decision to red card Benni McCarthy.

I said at the time action should be taken, REAL fines handed out and the threat of playing behind closed doors should have been wheeled out. Instead, the PSL disciplinary committee chose to charge Kaizer Chiefs for far less serious misdemeanours at Loftus against Sundowns a month before along with Pirates.

And then, on the day Gordon Igesund led Bafana for the first time on home soil against Mozambique, both cases were adjourned.  No action was taken. Then we had pictures of Johan Neeskens being pelted by Msandawana fans at Moroka Swallows, images that were flashed around the world.

If ever there was a time to clamp down hard on fan misbehaviour it is now. Instead, the chairman of the PSL (who also runs the NSL and is a vice president of SAFA, though he has decided NOT to run for Olympic chairman) apparently chooses to dispute his club’s liability.

Think carefully about this. I am not waging war against Orlando Pirates or the Iron Duke. Nobody would be that stupid in the current climate. What I am saying is that, instead of clamping down on the kind of embarrassing incident which happened after the Zambia game this week, we are disputing who is responsible.

Pirates have good reason to take such action. Their fans have several outstanding cases against them. First the Telkom Final, for which they received a R250,000 suspended fine which they failed to overturn on appeal.

Then, according to the excellent Mark Gleeson, my old pal writing for the Sowetan, we have:

15 February: Pirates charged after supporters threw objects at the Black Leopards goalkeeper twice in the second half of their match.

19 May: Pirates fans invaded the pitch at the Moses Mabhida Stadium after their title-clinching win over Lamontville Golden Arrows. The charge took two months to materialise. Case put on hold.

25 August: Pirates were charged after supporters threw an assortment of objects onto the pitch during the MTN8 semifinal second leg when SuperSport United won 3-0 at the Orlando Stadium. As I mentioned above, an Nyala armoured car was called in to action to protect the referee and several fans in SuperSport and Kaizer Chiefs shirts – as well as a press photographer - were injured after a pitch invasion.

Gleeson says that, over the past two years, Pirates have paid R250,000 in fines and after losing their appeal over the Telkom final, they owed another R100,000.

With the three further charges above still outstanding months after the problems occurred, Pirates could now face a bill of R1million for incidents since December last year. In most FIFA nations, the threat of playing behind closed doors would now have emerged.

For the double-treble champions to “boast” such a track record but remain unpunished seems almost unbelievable.

Then, on Wednesday, we had Pirates going to arbitration to change the globally accepted understanding that clubs SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE for their fans.

If Pirates win their case, they will be able to shrug off the charges listed above, claiming they have nothing to do with their own fans’ behaviour.

The same will apply to Sundowns and Chiefs. But at the same time, how will future outbreaks of fan violence be dealt with? Who gets punished? Will security companies and the police be forced to attend in larger numbers – and could THEY then face fines for failing to control crowds?

Stadium security and conditions in Europe – particularly in Britain – were upped after a long history of hooliganism which kept women and children from watching football 20 years ago. But only because harsh measures were taken against the clubs involved – ALL English clubs were banned from Europe for five years after the Heysel disaster, several were forced to play in front of empty stadiums.

If Pirates – backed by their owner and PSL chairman Dr Khoza – succeed in escaping responsibility for their fans, who will keep the peace?

Of course the individuals who misbehave must be caught and punished, but it the club isn’t fined or forced to play behind closed doors, how will South African football EVER be able to ensure the security of vulnerable fans?

So far, we have had no public statement from Dr Khoza on the way his club is trying to escape responsibility for the fans who wear their replica shirts and buy their tickets.

But I’d suggest he think very carefully about who he supports here – his own PSL disciplinary committee, or the club he runs.