Thursday, 28 June 2012

Come in Number Three: Kaizer Chiefs unveil six-and-a-half new signings, but where's the Tower?

Two Many Chiefs: YeYe and Tower train with Bafana

Kaizer Chiefs proudly unveiled six-and-a-half new signings for the 2012-13 season when they unveiled Mulomowandau Mathoho’s No3 shirt… but not the towering Bafana Bafana centre-back himself.
While the haggling with Bloemfontein Celtic over “Tower” goes on… and on… and on… let’s take a quick look at the half-a-dozen new Chiefs currently training with new boss Stuart Baxter – who admits he played no part in helping Bobby Motuang choose his reinforcements after South Africa’s “biggest” club finished fourth in the PSL last season.
We already knew about young Amazulu goalkeeper Nhlanhla “Brilliant” Khuzwayo, who will get a replica of Itumeleng Khune’s No1 jersey and then try to make it his. Khuzwayo was not “officially unveiled” either - because he was in goal for Neil Tovey’s Thanda Royal Zulu during their devastating 3-0 defeat against Chippa United at Richard’s Bay yesterday.
Then there’s the talented No5, Siboniso Gaxa, released after a successful spell with Belgian club Lierse, and No8 Kingston Nkhatha, signed for a reputed R3m from continental crusaders Black Leopards. We also knew about their new No10, Siyabonga Nkosi returning to the club aged 30, after a spell in Europe and Durban. Was he really the sharpest of the Golden Arrows last season?
We’ve got the more modest No18, Kgotso Moleko, the right-back from Bloemfontein Celtic who impressed new boss Stuart Baxter on the first day of pre-season on Monday and signed on the spot.
Even further down the numerical pecking order, we find No28 Sakhile “Ghaba” Hlongwa, an Umlazi-born striker who spent last season at Nedbank Cup minnows Ethekwini Coastal FC. His old youth coach has been in touch, claims he’s a top goal-getter despite modest stats.
And way down the order, there’s Morgan Gould, the SuperSport United and Bafana centre-back who will wear No83. Now he IS impressive. And ideally suited to taking the captaincy in a club proven to be devoid of any real leadership on the pitch last season.
Which just goes to show, numbers mean nothing. And neither do shirts. As the twitterers so forcefully point out, parading a jersey rather than the bloke himself at the swanky Thaba Ya Batswana conventon centre is laughable. Bloemfontein Celtic must be laughing… or crying.
It was left to general manager Bobby Motuang’s sister Jessica, the family business’s Marketing Director and glamorous daughter of Chief’s founder Kaizer to tell us about Tower’s No3 jersey, which wasn’t doing much explaining.
She simply stated the obvious: “I was unveiling the jersey, I was not unveiling the player. But I'm confident that Mathoho will be a Chiefs player by the start of the season.
"It is a work in progress. We are talking to Celtic, we are working 24/7 to land his signature. We have agreed terms with the player and his agent. And the player has made it clear he wants to come to Chiefs. We will make sure we come out tops on this issue and make sure that he dons the black and gold this season.
“We know Edward Manqele (the former Free State Stars top-scorer lured away by Sundowns) also said that he wanted to play for us but it didn't work but this issue is different and the club is confident we can land him by July 1."
The gorgeous Jessica also confirmed the two DKs, Doc Khumalo and Donald Khuze, will continue to support the new coach.  Khumalo, though he was barely mentioned at the press conference, said: “I’ve had a face to face with Mr Baxter, he is the right man for the job.” Great stuff, Doc.
Arthur Zwane, the third caretaker coach in the tricky triumvirate appointed after Vladimir Vermezovic’s hasty departure late last season, has “already started working with the development of players”.
Baxter, the former Bafana coach who falsified his CV when questioned by Star football writer Jonty Mark after his appointment three months ago, admits he had absolutely no part in selecting these new players (nor, presumably, Mathoho’s shirt) though he does claim he was “in constant contact” with Bobby throughout the off-season wheeler-dealing: "I was not the one who scouted all the players, but there were on-going conversations by telephone. I'm very happy with the technical team that we've got.”
On the day Sundowns presented us with a new team manager – Mike Ntombela returns to the club, replacing Michael Manzini – and Orlando Pirates promoted Simphiwe Ngwenya to “second assistant coach” after 12 years of working with Augusto Palacios, Chiefs might not have achieved quite what they set out to with the big announcement at Thaba Ya Batswana.
Jessica insisted: “We have signed players who we hope will help us achieve our goals this season. We want to win trophies.” Unfortunately Jessica, players lift silverware. You can hardly even polish a trophy with a No3 jersey.
But with Tim Sukazi, Tower’s agent, appealing to the nation’s constitution and insisting footballers are not “slave labour”, perhaps it’s not worth Sundowns getting shirty about Mathoho’s move. Celtic will have to settle for the Amakhosi’s R5m rather than the Braziliant offer of R7m plus two of their many surplus squad members. What choice do they have?
And reports that Patrice Motsepe’s hard-working Trott Moloto immediately stepped in and offered to double Mathoho’s shirt number to six are clearly just mischief making from former Fleet Street journalists who think they are oh, so clever.
The important point is this: Mulomowandau Mothoho has made a brave stand, insisting on joining Chiefs rather than adding his name to the long list of top young players who disappear at Sundowns (we can only hope Manqele is not just the latest). Bobby Motaung has clearly failed to back the 23-year-old Tower, who was rumoured to be back with his Sundowns-chasing father in Venda yesterday.
Sukazi admitted Tower was at Naturena earlier in the week but said: “He’s just there to assess the environment and he has not signed for Chiefs, I must stress that. He’s only having a look around and getting a feel for the club and the new coach. That is all."
Mathoho himself says: "I made it clear to my club that Chiefs is where I am going to. My stance is still the same. Sundowns did make an approach but I must follow my heart. The support I have been receiving from my family has helped me to deal with this."
Bobby? Kaizer? They are saying nothing. And they appear reluctant to part with any more money to recreate the national side’s centre-back pairing of Gould and Mathoho.
But for all their penny-pinching grinchery, the Amakhosi will get a man to put inside the No3 shirt. I’m almost sure of it.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Pirates sign six: including Nigeria's answer to Mario Balotelli

Always a Pirate: Onyekachi Okonkwo
ORLANDO PIRATES have re-signed Nigeria’s answer to Mario Balotelli – the tough-talking, ref-threatening, contract-breaking Onyekachi Okonkwo.
The big Irvin Khoza press conference was everything Buccaneers fans might have hoped for with SIX new players added to the double-treble champions’ squad in a single stroke – and the promise of “more to come” from the Iron Duke.
But hold on… what happened to the Zimbabwean striker Takesure Chinyama, just a medical short of signing for the Sea Robbers last week? Up north, they were telling us he was leaving Dynamos after being offered R100,000-a-month to join the South African champions.
Instead, we were offered midfielder Onekachi Donatus Okonkwo who begins his second spell in Soweto after leaving the club in 2007 in the days before silverware came in threes.
“Tico”, who has spent the last five years scoring goals in the contrasting surroundings of Switzerland and Qatar, grinned: “Once a Pirates, always a Pirate, that’s what they always say!
“Even when I was playing overseas with FC Zurich and Al Kharaitiyat, I always stayed in touch with the chairman.”
In a move which has distinct parallels with the return of Siyabonga Nkosi to Kaizer Chiefs, Okonkwo, at 30 the same age as Nkosi, adds: “This club has always been close to my heart. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Ghost again.
“But although I’ve played here before, to come back to Pirates after five years abroad will be  challenge - it’s a completely different to the team I left behind in 2007. But Augusto Palacios is still here!”
Okonkwo is yet another cog in the machine Khoza is putting together to make a real run at the African Champions League next season – he won it with Nigeria's Enyimba as a youngster in 2003 and 2004. He also scored against his old club when Pirates reached the semi-finals in 2006.
But Okonkwo doesn’t come without a reputation for Balotelli-style controversy. In August 2006, during a Telkom Charity Cup match against Bloemfontein Celtic, Okonkwo was red-carded but refused to go, threatening to beat up referee Daniel Bennett. He was eventually dragged off by his Pirates team-mates. He also had a reputation for going AWOL when he went on various trials in Europe.
When he went to Europe, “Tico” had signed a pre-contract agreement with German side FC Koln but after a week, he disappeared and signed a four-year deal at Swiss side FC Zurich.
Okonkwo said he only agreed to a trial at Koln with their sporting director Klaus Horstmann threatening to take the matter to FIFA.
He joined Al Kharitiyath in the summer of 2010 and sad yesterday: “I did have options after Qatar in France and Belgium but European football can be stressful. This is where it started for me, and I'm happy to be back home.
“This club has always been close to my heart. I'm happy to be here where I can hopefully finish off my career.”
The press conference also starred five other players who have signed three-year deals for Pirates.
Patrick Phungwayo, signed from Wits (the Clever Boys are soon to be know as the Intellegent Older Gentlemen), young Khethowakhe Masuku from Black Leopards, Siya Mngoma from Amatuks plus Free States Stars duo Ayanda Gcaba and Manti Moholo. Quite what’s happening with Bloemfontein Celtic’ centre-back Eric Mathoho remains mystery, though Pirates have withdrawn their interest as Chiefs and Sundowns battle it out for the Tower.
Gcaba said: “I will always be grateful to Stars, I’d been there four years and they allowed me to move on. I'm looking forward to the challenge ahead.”
The Iron Duke told us: “We have had protected discussions over the last six months, with Isaac Chansa leaving (for China), we felt that it was important to replace him.
“We can't reveal secrets... we are still the best in the market, those who desire happiness and success must be prepared for war.
“Everybody is reinforcing. We are not done yet.
“There are still more players signing.”
Okonkwo’s career in a nutshell:
2004-2007       Orlando Pirates              43 games, 3 goals
2007-2010       FC Zurich                      62      (2)
2010-2012       Al Kharitiyath                 39      (5)
2006-2008       Nigeria                            9       (0)
His Christian name Onyekachi, means "Who is greater than his godly guarding?" 

Friday, 22 June 2012

And finally, it's done: Tower Mathoho joins Kaizer Chiefs

Born to be a Chief: Tower Mathoho

Kaizer Chiefs have won the battle for the Tower. Yes, they have secured the services of Mulomuwandau Mathoho, the Bloemfontein Celtic centre-back who impressed but just missed out on signing for Holland’s Ere Divisie club FC Twente in Enschede last year.
Though there were groans all round from the estimated 15 million Amakhosi fans yesterday when Free State Stars top-scorer Edward Manqele was sold for a staggering R7m to Mamelodi Sundowns, the towering inferno on Twitter yesterday was the chase for Mathoho.
Over a week ago, Patrick Baloyi, my lively colleague on The New Age, told us Mothoho would become  Chief. But when Sundowns offered to double Manqele’s R500,000 signing on fee and wages of R70,000 a month last month, it looked like Bobby Motaung had been caught short on both players.
But no. Today I can reveal that Tim Sukazi, Mathoho’s agent, was never going to let that happen. While Manqele’s future was determined by his club, Mathoho’s determination to join South Africa’s biggest brand won the day.
Sukazi said: “It as a bit of a shock when we discovered two Sundowns officials camping outside the Mathoho household in Venda. But Erik’s dad chased them away from Tshiondo. The move was always Kaizer Chiefs.”
And I can reveal, with little help from the Star’s Nkareng Matshe, how Chiefs managed see off Trott Moloto as he came to the foot of the 22-year-old Tower, determined to persuade yet another top young star join the Sundowns hordes by waving Patrice Mtsepe’s chunky cheque book.
When Bobby and Chiefs made their approach to Celtic for Tower’s services in May, Sundowns stepped in and offered the thrice-capped Bafana defender better personal terms – Manqela is reported to be on a three-year R90,000-a-month deal at Chloorkop – whilst also offering two players to Bloemfontein.
The Sundowns deal was supposed to R3million in cash plus Ramahlwe Mphahlele and Buhle Mkhwanazi but when one of the players revealed they hadn’t been consulted, the deal fell through.
On Facebook, I received two messages telling me Tower had turned up at Naturena yesterday “with avocados for the lads” to sign his contract as the Manqele deal was echoing around South Africa’s footballing corridors of power.
Then this from Celtic CEO Khuymbulani Konco: “We have received letter from Mathoho saying he wants to go to Chiefs even though we have reached an agreement through Phunya Sele Sele for a move to Sundowns with two players we wanted. But we are under no pressure, Tower has two years left on his contract.”
And finally, after weeks of wrangling, Konco was able to confirm: “Yes, we had been talking to both clubs but we spoke to Bobby Motaung and we made progress.”
Chiefs and Celtic are expected to release a joint statement on the move – with a stated transfer fee of R5m – over the weekend before Tower can begin forging a pre-season central partnership with fellow Bafana defender Morgan Gould, who moved from SupersSport United to Chiefs a month ago.
 Gould and Mathoho join Siyabonga Nkosi as part of Stuart Baxter’s new-look squad for the 2012-2013 season, though Mthokozisi Yende is the latest Chief headed for the exit door to make way for Bobby’s new boys.

These quotes from Khuymbulani Konco have just dropped on
"I keep on saying that until we announce that the boy has been sold, he still belongs to Celtic. I keep on repeating the same story … you can quote me on that and say 'Khumbulani says; there is no deal that has been signed.' Nothing.
"Sundowns are also still in the picture, so don't rule out Sundowns … look, the only reason there is a delay is that Celtic are still looking for a replacement for Mathoho. If we get someone that we are comfortable enough that he is a suitable replacement for Mathoho, then the boy will go but before that, no. 
"If we get a replacement today, we will sell the boy today but if we get a replacement in a year's time then we will sign the agreement to sell Mathoho in a year."

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

As Pirates and Sundowns swoop, returning Nkosi talks to Amakhosi

Danke Siyabonga: Nkosi during his German playing days

ON the day that Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns secured expensive reinforcements from the north, Kaizer Chiefs fans are welcoming back a talent from a little closer to home.
The Buccaneers announced the arrival of Zimbabwe striker Takesure Chinyama from Dynamos on a salary of R100,000-a-month – significantly more than the R70,000 Chiefs general manager Bobby Motaung offered Free States Stars for their top-scorer Edward Manqele last week – and Mamelodi Sundowns are believed to be paying nearly twice that to lure Ghana’s Under 20 captain Mumuni Abubaker to Chloorkop after he failed a trial at Liverpool.
But while the anxious Amakhosi await the outcome of a board meeting at Free State Stars to find out Manqele’s future – Sundowns apparently doubled Bobby’s offer - it is the return of Siyabonga Nkosi which has the goal-and-black all a-twitter with excitement.
Newcastle-born Nkosi, who started his footballing life at Bloemfontein Celtic, before first moving to Chiefs in 2006 and on to Germany and Israel before a return to SuperSport United, plied his trade for Golden Arrows with some success last season.
But when new coach Stuart Baxter, who gave Nkosi his Bafana debut in 2005, expressed an interest, busy Bobby did the business and brought the 30-year-old back to Naturena.
On the Chiefs official website, Nkosi says, what you’d expect; Siyabonga: “Thanks. I am excited to be back here at Naturena. It really feels great because for me Chiefs is home.
“I thought the feeling would be different this time around having been here couple of seasons back. But I am still as excited as I was the first time I joined.
“My contract with Golden Arrows was coming to an end in June so my representative, Josiah Mpono told me that there are few clubs that have shown interest on my services. He also mentioned that Chiefs had also enquired; I told him on the spot; ‘focus on Chiefs’. Re-joining Chiefs was my first preference.
“I always felt that I have unfinished business here. I wanted to walk that journey again as I only spent a season the last time. There was a strong feeling to complete the journey I had started. As a fan I have always wanted to see Chiefs winning the league and I am glad now that I have been given an opportunity to contribute to that.
“I didn’t know so many people wanted to see me back at Chiefs. I am really surprised. Amakhosi fans have reacted to the news, it’s been exciting to meet fans on the street, wishing me and the team well in the new season.
“I am looking forward to the challenge of pulling on that gold and black again. I strive on challenges and I will be competing with the best players in the country. Joining Chiefs has re-ignited that competitive spirit in me and I am looking forward grabbing this opportunity with both hands.
“I will be going back to Durban to sort out few things and I can’t wait to meet my teammates when pre-season starts in the next couple of days.”
Chiefs fans, having already seen Morgan Gould arrive from SuperSport, will now be waiting to see what happens to Bloemfontein Celtic’s unsettled Mulomowandau “Tower” Mathoho, who partnered Gould in central defence in the 3-0 win over Gabon in Mbombela last week. Motaung made it clear last week that he expected Mathoho to be in a Chiefs shirt next season – but no official confirmation has yet emerged. Mathoho is coming under huge pressure to put Chiefs ahead of Sundowns despite the financial rewards – particularly on his Facebook page, where dozens of Amakhosi are leaving their pleas.
Unlike Gould and Nkosi – as well as recent acquisitions Sibuniso Gaxa and Bernard Parker – Tower and Manqele might require a substantial transfer fee and with Chiefs reluctant to deal at anything over R3.5m, Sundowns continue to lurk.
But there is another name on the agenda. Katlego Mphela – the alleged Killer who struggled to impress Johan Neeskens at Sundowns last season – has a known admirer in Baxter, who set up his trial at Glasgow Celtic last year. Busy Bobby and Chiefs may yet lure another major star to Naturena. Watch this space.


2003–2006          Bloemfontein Celtic         52           (12)
2006–2007          Kaizer Chiefs       26           (4)
2007–2008          Arminia Bielefeld              9             (0)
2009      Maccabi Netanya             15           (1)
2009–2010          Supersport United            15           (1)
2010–    Golden Arrows   44           (8)
2005–2009          South Africa        25           (2)

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Kaizer Chiefs: Is the sun going down on Bobby Motaung's grand plan?

Worth a few Bob: Motaung

BOBBY Motaung’s endless struggle to make Kaizer Chiefs the biggest club in South Africa struck a major obstacle as the sun went down last night.
General manager Motaung, son of the club’s creator, brother of the once striking Junior (and the very striking Jessica, Chief’s marketing guru) claims to have signed Erik Molomowandau “Tower” Mathoho from Bloemfontein Celtic. Great move. Born on the same day (March 1) as me and a certain Robert Marawa, the 22-year-old is  one of the better centre-backs in Africa and would form a dynamic duo with Morgan Gould, picked up from SuperSport United last month.
The two will probably play next to each other for Bafana Bafana as they seek a long-awaited win over Gabon in an international friendly in Mbombela on Friday night.
Just how Bobby, apparently working “closely” with new boss Stuart Baxter despite the distance separating Soweto and Wolverhampton, persuaded Celtic supremo Jimmy Augousti to part company with the Tower on the cheap remains a bit of a mystery.
Word was that Chiefs would pay no more than R3.5m “for any player” as they attempt to close the gap on arch-rivals Orlando Pirates, who have on six trophies in the past two seasons. The Sowetan newspaper is talking about an R5m fee, claiming deal is not done, but the excellent Patrick Baloyi records the sum as R3m for a done deal.
Tower’s market value was probably three times that. Yet according to my esteemed colleague Baloyi at The New Age, it appears, after an unsuccessful trial with Holland’s FC Twente last season, Mathoho has decamped to Naturena despite the haggling.
Tower’s agent, Tim Sukazi, explains it thus: “The constitution of this country ensures we do not deal in the slave trade in football. Gone are the days when players could be coerced into joining clubs against their own choices."
Strange that. In Europe, a contracted player goes to the highest bidder when personal terms are settled. And there is little question Sundowns would have bid more than Chiefs for Tower, and just about anybody else they fancy.
Next up after Gould (transfer fee not disclosed) and Mathoho? That would be the Free State Stars striker Edward Jabu Manqele who will turn 25 on June 16.
Today we are told that Manqele, who burst on to the scene with 10 goals for the little stars of Bethlehem last season, is also available for a remarkably modest fee. And, according to’s “source close to”, he has been offered a R75 000-a-month salary plus a R600 000 signing-on fee.
Now normally, signing-on fees are only offered to players who are out of contract and available on a free transfer. I find it hard to believe Manqele was made available on that basis by Stars, but details of the young striker’s contract are sketchy.
Problem is, Bobby may not have offered enough. According to a third club interested in Manqele, Patrice Motsepe’s billions have come in to play. The Sundowns supremo offered to double the Chiefs offer last night. quotes their source as saying: "Chiefs have offered Edward a very, very good contract, but the boy is now confused because Sundowns keep upping their offer as well.”
Manqele, plucked from Vodacom League Trabzon FC by Bafana interim boss Steve Komphela last year, is quoted as saying: "I am still in the dark. I will know my future with Free State Stars next week Monday, and for now I would rather not comment on which team I prefer to join."
That’s wise. Because, of course, Chiefs – the richest club in South Africa with a huge Vodacom sponsorship, huge sponsors and an estimated 15 million Amakhosi behind them – are not quite playing the game.
Bobby, who told us last year he didn’t need a CV to work for the family business, insists: “Manqele is one of our targets, but as negotiations are challenging, I cannot confirm when we will reach an agreement with his club.”
That’s when, not if. Yet Bobby’s refusal to pay more than R3.5m is patently ridiculous. That amount – around 320,000 pounds in British terms – would barely buy you a Conference (fifth division) journeyman in England. And if you think R70,000 a month is a reasonable offer for one of the best young strikers in the country, consider this: Yaya Toure is on 250,000 (R2.7m) a WEEK at Manchester City – where mere squad players earn a minimum of R3m a month.
Chiefs, with all their resources, should be competing at a far higher monetary level to satisfy the non-rising Amakhosi, frustrated as they watch the Buccaneers plunder silverware with alacrity. Instead, Bobby is trading on the Chiefs brand to bend young stars to his bargain-basement desires.
We all know Sundowns pay over the odds. Even if Manqele went to Chloorkop for the rumoured R140,000 a month, Elias Palemba and Teko Modise are reported to be on nearly three times that after their moves from Supersport and Pirates.
We also know that many top young stars go to Mamelodi purely for the money… and disappear amid the dozens of expensive young things competing for Johan Neeskens’ attention.
It’s financial madness of course. But ask any Arsenal fans if money matters – and they’ll tell you all about England’s 2012 champions Manchester City. Just as Bobby is trying to operate within daddy’s budget, Arsene Wenger attempts to keep within upcoming UEFA constraints in Europe. And the Gunners, like the Amakhosi, went trophyless again last season, missing out on the big signings as they attempt to deal within a tight structure.
For City’s Sheik Mansour, read Sundowns’ Motsepe. Pay the money and you win the titles.
Motaung, who has also spotted Leopards' Zimbabwean striker Kingston Nkatha despite the fact he is “not for sale”, is unfazed. He tells Baloyi: “We have been working hard in ensuring that we sign players that fill Chiefs’ standards and we all know what Mathoho can offer. His jersey is waiting at Naturena.”
We’ll see, Bobby, we’ll see.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Komphela hung, drawn and faltered. Step forward Gordon Igesund.

In Gord we trust: Igesund
We all knew silky-tongued Steve Komphela could talk the talk. Sadly, we now know he doesn’t quite walk the walk.
The Free State Stars miracle-worker had every opportunity to revolutionise the Bafana Bafana squad bequeathed him by the unlamented Pitso Mosimane after the disappointing 1-1 draw against Ethiopia at the Bafokeng Sports Palace nine days ago.
Instead, he barely tinkered with his starting line-up as the caretaker could only muster another desperately disappointing 1-1 draw against Botswana in the tiny University Stadium in Gaborone last Saturday.
I watched what I could of the match while preparing to go on air at SuperSport’s EuroZone garden in Randburg, and believe me Steve, you don’t want to know what Bradley Carnell, John Barnes, Ruud Krol and Thomas Mlambo had to say when I relayed the score to them. On hearing the final result, the old warhorse Terry Paine simply shrugged: “A draw with Botswana? It’s a disgrace.”
In Neal & Pray last Tuesday, like many other pundits, I offered alternatives to Komphela, a man I like and admire. Up front, I suggested Santos top-scorer Eleazar Rodgers or the recently-bereaved Thulani Serero, now strutting his stuff with Ajax Amsterdam. Instead, Komphela stuck with the alleged killer Katlego Mphela – fair enough, he struck against Ethiopia – and PSL top-scorer Siyabonga Nomvethe from Moroka Swallows, utterly ineffective a week before.
At the back, he refused to budge on the selection of non-playing Tottenham centre-half Bongani Khumalo while Bloemfontein Celtic’s impressive Mulomowandau “Tower” Mathoho was left with the cushion on the bench once more.
And in midfield, there was the mystery man from Golden Arrows, Thanduyise Khuboni, still starting ahead of Sweden’s player of the season May Mahlangu and Orlando Pirates dynamo Andile Jali.
Sure, Komphela dropped wounded Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Reneilwe 'Yeye' Letsholonyane for Buccaneer title-winner Oupa Manyisa and, just like Pitso against Ethiopia, he put on Sundowns match-changer Teko Modise for the struggling Amakhosi favourite Siphiwe Tshabalala after 68 minutes. Oh, and Tokelo Rantie took the 34-year-old Nomvethe’s place on the hour.
But essentially this was simply a rehash of Pitso’s mistakes. The team remained leaderless (I suggested bringing in Benni McCarthy, if only to issue threats from the bench) and toothless (only Morgan Gould’s head really threatened the Zebras).
And for those reasons, former Kroonstad schoolmaster Komphela, you can no longer expect to get the Bafana job permanently, no matter what happens in the friendly against Gabon at Mbombela on Friday. What exactly happened to the brave, new Bafana? Does the deadweight Brazilian Jario Leal still tell you who to pick? As I said on eNew yesterday morning, please tell me that ain’t so, Steve.
We had the normal Komphela platitudes afterwards: “We're not pleased,” “We are not happy,” and “The nation deserves better.”
But with Ethiopia beating the Central African Republic 2-0 to go top of the group, there can be no more mistakes. South Africa haven’t won a football game since November last year. Of the five names on the SAFA short-list, we know Gordon Igesund, the 55-year-old who has won the PSL title with FOUR different clubs, can change that after all that he has achieved over two decades in domestic football.
Having lost faith in Komphela, I can hardly turn to Neil Tovey, the 1996 Afcon-winning captain now managing Thanda Royal Zulu in the second division. Gavin Hunt could do the trick and said last week “I couldn’t turn down the Bafana job”, but he would surely fall out with SAFA’s bungling power mongers within a matter of seconds.
Shakes Mashaba, statistically the best international coach on the short-list after his run of 19 matches, 12 wins, five draws and two losses came to an acrimonious end in 2004, has suddenly emerged as the people’s choice after a rash of calls to Robert Marawa’s Metro Radio show last Thursday.
 And yes, he has all that it takes, despite failing to qualify for the London Olympics this year with the Under23 squad.
But now is the time for decisive action from SAFA. As their vice-president Danny Jordaan, the force behind the 2010 World Cup, said this morning: “We have dropped four points. It’s disappointing. If we lose the next game at home to the Central African Republic next year, we can say goodbye to Brazil.”
So say hello to Gordon Igesund. Moroka Swallows fans know it makes sense after his miraculous turnaround at Dobsonville last season. If anyone can get Steve Pienaar and his over-paid squad to fly, it’s Igesund.
This first appeared as my Neal & Pray column in on June 12. Since then, Igesund has topped a poll asking who should lead Bafana permanently: of the 3000 votes cast, there were 1,920 for Igesund (63.6%) with SuperSport's Gavin Hunt second on 334, caretaker Steve Komphela and Under 23 boss Shakes Mashaba tied on 328 in third. Thanda Royal Zulu's Neil Tovey, the 1996 AFCON-winning captain was a distant 5th with 3.5%.

Neal Collins is a South African football analyst who spent 25 years on Fleet Street. You can catch him on eNews every Monday morning a 8.15am and on SuperSport3’s EuroZone on Saturdays at 4pm. You can also follow him on I'm on eTV Sunrise at 7.30am tomorrow, eNews at 8.15am talking Euro2012.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Why the missus didn't get a look-in this weekend... and there's more to come

Court case to come: John Terry and Anton Ferdinand
SOME weekend for sports fans. Maria Sharapova wore a nice strappy frock and won the French Open. The television ratings always rise for the Russian beauty, along with many male members.
The much-hyped mens final between Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal will resume tomorrow afternoon due to rain with Djokovic attempting a comeback after losing the first two sets 6-4 6-3 2-6 1-2.
On the rugby pitch, England were clearly robbed 22-17 by Heyneke Meyer's uncertain Springbulls in Durban, where Kiwi referee Steve Walsh is due to be replaced by South African public enemy number one, Bryce Lawrence for the rest of the series (he said hopefully), New Zealand trounced Ireland, Australia were too much for Wales. Same old, same old.
The Canadian Grand Prix saw a SEVENTH different winner in as many F1 races this season as Lewis Hamilton used his fresh tyres to slip past double champions Sebastien Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
In Las Vegas early on Sunday morning, Manny Pacquiao lost his WBO welterweight title to Timothy Bradley after a highly controversial split points decision. There will doubtless be a rematch, otherwise somebody is going to have to take on Floyd Mayweather when he comes out of jail.
But all this is mere window-dressing on a weekend of footballing humdingers.
In Gaborone, South Africa's new caretaker coach Steve Komphela came in, changed nothing and, unsurprisingly, produced Bafana Bafana's 1,356th successive draw. Apparently this has to do with muti and unpaid songomas rather than Komphela's bizarre decision to stick with the men who curtailed Pitso Mosimane's international coaching career when they drew with Ethiopia. Phokeng hell. And that was just the headline.
With Gordon Igesund leading the hastily assemble SAFA shortlist ahead of Gavin Hunt, Neil Tovey, people's choice Shakes Mashaba and the now-unpopular Komphela, perhaps I should offer this: for many nations, two draws in two World Cup qualifiers is considered something of a coup. In Africa, where coups are common, we should consider a group containing the Central African Republic, Botswana and Ethiopia - who beat CAR 2-0 yesterday to top the group - a free air-ticket to Brazil in 2014.
One unkind Botswanan suggested South Africa, home of AFCON 2013 after Libya shot their president and pulled out, are adopting the "if you can't beat them, host them" philosophy.
This is unfair. South Africa, providing they don't panic and appoint a Serbian to lead the nation, will top their group. After that, with play-offs to decide the meagre five-strong African contingent in Brazil, it's a lottery.
And so to the European Racism Championship. Poland and the Ukraine have done their best to present their fascist face to the world, and when Holland's black players were subjected to racist chanting in their first public appearance, we suddenly realised Sol Campbell's Panorama investigation was more than a hatchet job.
Still, the shows goes on. After two nights of action, no games have been called off, no players have stormed off. Missiles were thrown during Portugal v Germany, but hey, they were hardly intercontinental or ballistic. This is, after all, the battle for Europe, not the world.
At SuperSport headquarters, or more precisely in the roofed garden behind Studio 6 in their Oak Avenue complex, I spent yesterday with the great and the good in the first of our weekly EuroZone series (every Saturday at 4pm, don't miss it, next week it won't start just as Botswana equalise).
The grand old man of football Terry Paine was there. He's been commentating on South African football since Sepp Blatter was a lad. Get him talking about Southampton's promotion to the English Premier League this season, and he's a laugh a minute. In great shape for a man of 73, he brightens visibly when talking about his 50-year-old column in the Southampton Evening Echo. Apparently Southampton - where he still holds the record for club appearances - invited him over to hand out the trophies after their epic rags-to-riches promotion season.
Then there's John Barnes, also part of the SuperSport crew for this Euro2012. He turned up two days late after being told halfway to Johannesburg that he needed a new passport. Barnesie is a great character. He may have missed the 12-minute Opening Ceremony in Warsaw flying backwards and forwards but he told me this joke: "Breaking news: There were incidents of monkey chanting during England's training sesson at Euro2012 yesterday, John Terry has been warned if he doesn't stop, he'll be on the next flight home."
On the more serious allegation that Rio Ferdinand has been omitted from Roy Hodgson's squad because of John Terry's impending court case over racially abusing Rio's brother Anton at QPR, Barnes says: "You have to respect Roy Hodgson's decision. When I said that in England, everyone accused me of supporting Terry. But I wasn't. I just said respect the coach. Personally, I think Rio is England's best centre-back. He should be there."
Terry Paine insists: "The FA have got involved here. They've told Hodgson not to pick Rio. Simple as that."
Also present? Bradley Carnell, who spent 12 years as a professional in Germany, lovely bloke, tells a good tale. The mad Italian Stefano Vigoriti, the knowedgeable Spaniard Ricard Fernandez and of course the beautiful presenters, Carol Tshabalala and Thomas Mlambo.
We get an hour on SuperSport3 every Saturday at 4pm. Might be worth watching.
The football certainly is. Plenty of incident in the opener, where hosts Poland were held 1-1 by Greece with two red cards and a sub-standard Spanish referee. Then the Russians, tipped by both yours truly and Ruud Krol (I had a quick chat with the former Orlando Pirates treble-winner before make-up) crushed the Czech Republic 4-1.
Krol was ushered out in a state of some distress after Holland's shock 1-0 defeat against unfancied Denmark tonight but I can console him with the news that Robin van Persie's boots have been found in Fernando Torres's blue-and-red kit bag.
After that, Cristiano Ronaldo and 10 other blokes in red tried to Germanate Joachim Loew's tournament favourites. Sadly, Mario Gomes scored after 70 minutes and CR7 had no reply. While all that was going on, Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in Argentina's 4-3 win over rivals Brazil (fielding their Olympic squad in New Jersey, USA) to help us remember Euro2012 is NOT the World Cup. Many described it as the game of the year.
Today World and European Champions Spain were expected to crush an Italian side floored by match-fixing investigations. It ended 1-1. Mario Balotelli didn't wear his Ghanaian surname Barwuah on his shirt, Fernando Torres missed a couple. Habitual scorer Di Natale came on for Balotelli and scored with his first touch for Italy. Cesc Fabregas, the former Gunner now with Barcelona, replied within three minutes for a Spanish side which started without a striker. Spain held 1-1? They lost to Switzerland 2-1 in their WC2010 opener and went on to win it.
Croatia then crushed the Republic of Ireland, much to the chagrin of my late Irish bastard great-grand-dad Collins with Luka Modric writing his CV for that move to Manchester United.
Monday sees England take a pounding from Laurent Blanc's rebuilt France, unbeaten in 21 games, while Sweden versus the Ukraine is anybody's guess. I've got eNews at 8.15am in the morning, my New Age column to write, then my debut on Ballz Radio at 3pm.
The action just doesn't stop. But consider this. South Africa's cricketers go to England next week. There are two more rugby Tests between the nations to come. And then the Olympics in London. Stay tuned. And warn the wife.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Euro2012 preview: Lionel Messi has a Czech mate

In Czech: Vaclav Pilar, Europe's answer to Lionel Messi
LIONEL MESSI has a Czech mate. When Euro2012 kicks off tomorrow night, all eyes will be on a 23-year-old called Vaclav Pilar when the Czech Republic takes on highly-fancied Russia.
Dick Advocaat’s Russia are among the pre-tournament favourites but the Czechs have qualified for every European Championship since the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993 – reaching the final against Germany at Euro96 with a side of shock troops that included Patrik Berger, Pavel Nedved and Karel Poborsky.
That record was under threat in October when they faced a play-off against England’s closest qualifying challengers Montenegro in Prague.
After a frustrating hour, it was Pilar who broke through with the first goal in a 2-0 home triumph to ease the passage of his nation, which at 18, is officially the same age as the new South Africa.
But it was playing for his club – the Czech champions Viktoria Plzen – that Pilar established himself last season as something of a European Messi.
Alongside the talented Petr Jiracek, Pilar shone as the unfancied Plzen finished third in a Champions League group featuring champions Barcelona and Italian giants AC Milan.
And when now-ex Barca boss Pep Guardiola picked out Pilar as the Plzen player who had impressed him most, the EuroMessi tag was neatly tied to his talented boots.
Since then, close pal Jiracek has gone to earn the big bucks with Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga - and Pilar is expected to make the lucrative leap to Engand, Spain, Italy or Germany soon.
But for now, the nation calls. Pilar says: "I don't think about my club fuure right now. I just fully focus on the Euro. But it would help me a great deal if I play well."
Still a relative international novice with nine caps, Pilar goes in to his first major tournament saying from the team’s training ground in Wroclaw: "I'm really looking forward to it. We're among the best 16 teams in Europe and my dream is to advance in the tournament."
Unlike World Cups, the European Championship rarely offers an easy game. After Russia tomorrow (8.45pm, live on SuperSport3 in South Africa), the Czechs have got 2004 shockers Grece and co-hosts Poland - who kick-off the tournament tomorrow night at 5pm (6pm in South Africa, also live on SuperSport3) to come in Group A.
Pilar says: "There are no easy opponents in this group or this tournament and I want to do all I can for the team to succeed. I haven't played many big games but I want to do my best."
While the Czechs may ease past hosts Poland - the lowest-ranked side in the tournament at 62 (that's six better than Bafana Bafana at 68) - to qualify with Russia, things will get no easier.
In the deadly Group B, Germany and Holland should emerge ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and dogged Denmark.
Group C should see champions Spain through, with Croatia perhaps getting the edge over troubled Italy and unlucky Ireland.
England may just sneak past Sweden in Group D with France on top and co-hosts Ukraine at the bottom.
The final? How about the Dutch to end Spain's four-year domination of world football?
You can follow me through Euro2012 on, my Tuesday Neal and Pray column in newspaper and on Monday mornings on eNews and eTV Sunrise. And every Saturday I'll be on SuperSport3 with EuroZone at 4pm, starting this week. I've been asked to be controversial. Like a certain Mario Barwuah-Balotelli. Don't miss it!

Monday, 4 June 2012

When "What Can I Do?" simply isn't enough: the Pitso Mosimane story

The people have spoken: Pitso Mosimane

LIKE a character in a Nando’s advert, Pitso Mosimane could go up in smoke at any time, detonated amid a wave of drawophobia from a frustrated football-speaking nation.
The Bafana Bafana boss knew the writing was on the wall on Sunday night, after a yet another disappointing draw – this time a 1-1 stalemate against FIFA’s 138th-best country Ethiopia to open his first World Cup qualifying campaign.
Brazil 2014 seemed a long way off for all of us on Sunday night. For Mosimane, the 47-year-old from Kagiso, Rio de Janeiro may now be off the agenda after failing to win for nine games and pleading: “What can I do?”
Mosimane’s international coaching tensure could be barely more substantial than his 4-cap playing career for Bafana nearly ten years ago. Though I argued on eTV Sunrise and eNews yesterday that he should stay in charge for the second game against Botswana on Saturday, SAFA called an emergency meeting at their NASREC headquarters at 9am to discuss the future of the former Cosmos and Sundowns journeyman.
Eight hours later, Gordon Igesund had emerged as the favored candidate with Pitso back in Phokeng with the squad amid whispers of government intervention from Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Irvin Khoza on the warpath. Igesund is out of contract with Moroka Swallows at the end of the month and according to "negotiations are taking place" with SAFA.
As I write, that SAFA meeting is ongoing – perhaps his articulate assistant Steve Komphela is adding his input. By 11am, after 13 hours of dithering, SAFA had still failed to release anything official with a spokesman saying "there are procedures to be followed."
Komphela, the Free State Stars miracle-worker appointed by SAFA three months ago, may take over in Gaberone if Pitso goes up in smoke. The people’s choice, Igesund, remains in China on tour with his rebuilt Moroka Swallows but may still have time to take charge before Sunday. Gavin Hunt and Shakes Mashaba have also been mentioned. At least, as the social networks said yesterday, Komphela talks a good game.
And really, that was always Pitso’s problem. As No2 during the World Cup in 2010, he was friendly enough. But by the time he took over from Carlos Alberto Ferreira, the whispers had begun.
The non-qualifying celebrations after that infamous draw against Sierra Leone should have been the end of course. I remember asking a former team-mate and television analyst why nobody had told Pitso he needed a win rather than a draw to reach AFCON2012. He said: “I never speak to Pitso. Since he became Bafana boss he’s deleted my number from his phone and he never returns my calls.”
Since then of course, Bafana have failed to win again and again. Few were distracted by the non-payment of the sangoma who claimed to be responsible. And though South Africa produced a near-heroic final half-hour at the Royal Bafokeng Palace on Sunday, the winner just wouldn’t come after the alleged killer Katlego Mphela’s 77th-minute equaliser.
It was, to put it mildly, a Phokeng disappointment.
And Mosimane’s post-match efforts to justify his shortcomings were hardly glittering.
He said: “It is not for me to say whether I must stay or go. I don't even have to respond to what people say. The pressure is there and it will always be there. But we still have 15 points to play for, okay?
"Botswana won’t be easy but the team is fighting. It’s not as if we are losing. No, no, there is a little bit of integrity. We believe we can take three points in Botswana on Sunday.
"What can I do? The usual story happened, chances were created but we didn't take them. How do I sort out the problems of South African football? Siyabonga Nomvete has scored the most goals this season and I had him in the team.
“He scored 20 for Moroka Swallows. And we created chances, Hey! Let's have fair play. You see, in South Africa we don't want to accept reality.
“Things have not been going well for us since we won the 1996 Cup of Nations – but we still don’t change the formula. The world is catching up with us. We don't want to accept that we are not scoring goals. We don't want to accept that our development programmes are not good.
"It took Spain 80 years to win the World Cup, but they had to change. We don't change the formula yet we expect different results. Let’s be shrewd. Whether I'm here or not they will miss the chances.”
So we don’t know who will be Bafana boss in Botswana on Sunday (live at 3pm on SABC1). But here’s my suggested eleven to face the guns of Gaberone – with Nomvethe reduced to an impact substitute and Reneilwe Letsholonyane rested after a season marred by injury: Sandilands, Gaxa, Masenamela, Mathoho, Gould, Jali, Mahlangu, Pienaar, Modise, Mphela, Rodgers (or Serero if he's over bereavement).