Sunday, 26 May 2013

Revealed: Baxter to the Future for double-winning Kaizer Chiefs. Naturena Junior on the drawing board

No going Baxter: Chiefs double-winning coach Stuart

AFTER his "once upon a time" start, the Stuart Baxter fairy-tale is only just getting underway.
After a season which sees Sir Alex Ferguson bow out at 71 with the English Premier League title under his belt and Jupp Heynckes leave Bayern Munich at 68 with the Bundesliga and Champions League wrapped up, an end-of-era atmosphere pervades large swathes of football-speaking Europe.

But in South Africa, the 58-year-old Baxter from Wolverhampton will not be thrown to the wolves.

Last night, as he picked up Coach of the Season at the PSL awards, Baxter said: "There was pressure at Kaizer Chiefs, a big club without a trophy for so long. But it's been great.

"Thank you to the fans who stuck with the team, the chairman, who has been an inspiration. And to those people who don't get the credit, the people who cut the grass, wash the kit, make the food, we must thank them too."

With our initial misgivings about the former Bafana Bafana boss now firmly thrust aside by Kaizer Chiefs double success in an historic first season, minds were turning to the future of the AmaKhosi within hours of the gritty 1-0 extra-time Nedbank Cup success over SuperSport United.

The roars of the 51,200 at Moses Mabhida had barely died down when "Reclaiming the Glory" turned to "The Glory Continues" - with the Motaung family seeking to secure "Baxter to the future" success for South Africa’s biggest club, with a reputed 15million pilgrims turning the nation’s streets to miles of of black and gold smiles.

Baxter says: “I didn’t want to talk to much about the future until after the Cup final. But the plans are in place.

“Firstly, we have produced a CD which will go out to junior clubs around the country. This will explain how Kaizer Chiefs youngsters are formed, what the club expects, how a promising kid might play for the Amakhosi. We want to develop a Chiefs style of play, universally.

“Then we have the new academy all planned out. We will be breaking ground over the road from Naturena soon. Two pitches, an academy building. All the plans are in place, I'll send you an invite!”

In England, the Cliff is Liverpool’s hallowed production line, for Manchester United it’s Carrington. Arsenal have London Colney, Chelsea recently built an expensive facility at Cobham.

Now for Naturena Too. Baxter promises: “We have nutritionists to ensure our players – current and future – stick to the correct diet. It’s so important in modern football.

“Everybody needs a sports psychologist these days too. This is a top-ranked, professional football club. We will offer counselling and advice to our players, young and old. That is vital too.

“We have also put an academic programme in place with a local university. We want our players to learn, not just play football. That’s is the way ahead.

“I know there have been problems with academies in South Africa before (both Chiefs and Pirates junior set-ups have been disbanded due to age-cheating allegations) but we have to plan for the future.

“I said when I got here, development would be crucial. That I would involved myself in all aspects of Kaizer Chiefs. We’ve won the league and the cup in my first season. But I have been working on these plans for years.”

Just in case that sounds like hot air, how about this from Aaron “Mbazo” Mokoena, the man Baxter appointed as his Bafana Bafana captain during his all-too-brief tenure a decade ago? 

Mokoena told me: “Stuart has had plans to develop South African footballers for years. SAFA didn’t give him the chance ten years ago. Now he will get the opportunity to put his development programme in place at Chiefs.

“I’ve always been a Baxter fan. You just watch him now he's achieve success.”

We will. Baxter has won us over on the pitch this season, surviving a difficult run-in to claim the PSL and seeing of Gavin Hunt’s tenacious SuperSport in Durban on Saturday.

After the game, Baxter grinned: "You come to a club and win the double in your first year? It's incredible and I'm immensely proud of my players.

"If someone had told me at the start of the season we would win the double I'd ask them what how much they were drinking?

"But remember, we start from scratch next season. We won't be champions of anything if we get beaten 3-0 every week!

"We'll try to repeat this year obviously, that’s what we have to do.”
Impressive stuff. Now Baxter gets the chance to impress OFF the field. I’ll keep you posted on just how successful he is. Happy ever after would be some epitaph.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Did Mbazo save Baxter from the axe: exclusive interview with Bafana Bafana's most capped player, Aaron Mokoena

Bafana's most capped: me and Aaron "The Axe" Mokoena

WHEN Stuart Baxter leads Kaizer Chiefs out at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday afternoon to reclaim further glory for South Africa’s biggest football club, Aaron Mokoena will be smiling broadly.

It was the record-breaking international defender who might just have saved the British boss’s bacon early in the season when times were hard.

Mokoena, the former Ajax, Blackburn and Portsmouth centre-back now at Bidvest Wits, told me this morning: “I love Stewy. When he was Bafana Bafana coach a decade ago he made me his captain. I knew then he was a top manager. He had all kinds of plans but they wouldn’t back him.

“So when things were getting difficult for Stuart early in the season, I made a call to Jessica Motaung (daughter of club owner Kaizer and the AmaKhosi’s marketing director). I told her ‘Give Baxter some time, he will come good.’ Now here he is, on the verge of winning the double.”

So did Mbazo save Baxter from the axe? The opening 4-1 defeat against Mamelodi Sundowns, coming on top of questions over the man from Wolverhampton’s CV, may well have led to serious trouble. But after Mokoena’s call, Chiefs went from strength to strength, crushing AmaZulu in their opening PSL clash and going on to win their first championship in eight years.

On Saturday Gavin Hunt’s SuperSport will attempt to derail Baxter’s bid for the double but Mokoena grins: “I’ve got to go with Chiefs. I know they’ve been on a poor run on the finishing stretch (two defeats and four draws in their last six saw Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates snapping at their heels until the final week) but  they’ll be up for it.”

Mokoena himself, aged 32 and with a record 107 South Africa caps to his name, has seen it all. A 15-year career which started at Jomo Cosmos and swept across Holland, Germany, Belgium and England may not end in back South Africa.

Mbazo, who played 23 times for fourth-placed Wits this season reveals: “I’m actually flying to the USA next week, there have been inquiries – but I may stay at Wits for one more year.”

With Hunt reported to be heading to Wits, Mokoena reveals: “There are big things happening at the club. Antonio Habas was a great coach at the start of the season – very tough, but I like that – Clive Barker was a good caretaker. But next season we might be up there, serious contenders.

“Whatever happens, I’ve loved it. Amsterdam, Blackburn, Portsmouth… I used to commute from Wilmslow in Manchester to the south coast of England every day!

“And my favourite story is that one you wrote before the World Cup, about my mum dressing me up as a girl to protect me during the Boipatong troubles when I was a kid.

“But now? The traffic in Johannesburg! I was twenty minutes late for my chat on eTV Sunrise this morning, even in a Hummer!”

Sold a dummy: me and Chester Missing at eTV Sunrise this morning!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Kaizer Motaung: he's nearly 70 but is there a finer man in South African football?

Chief of Chiefs: Kaizer Motaung

How not to be popular with plundering Pirates. Tell the world you wish Kaizer Motaung was still the driving force in South African football.

Watching the great man speak after the AmaKhosi’s championship celebrations in Mbombela on Saturday, you could almost forget the mess which left Polokwane City at the top of the National First Division on Sunday night. You could almost ignore his team’s unimpressive finishing to the season, five draws and two defeats in seven games.

AmaTuks' upset 1-0 win over the already-crowned Chiefs left Moroka Swallows and Mamelodi Sundowns languishing outside the PSL’s lucrative top eight. But in front of a capacity crowd surrounded by the giraffes of Mbombela’s elegant World Cup edifice, Kaizer moved us beyond the humdrum.

The words rumbled forth, easy, unprepared from a 68-year-old in full control of his faculties: “I told this team this is a great club with a great history. Now you have to go out there and write your own history. That is exactly what they have done this season.”

And for the first foreigner to win the PSL title in his first year, Stuart Baxter, he used the simple, the straightforward: “I must give credit to Stuart. He’s been incredible in his maiden season. These Chiefs will not be remembered as chokers like some others before them.”

Whether Serbian ex-boss Vladimir Vemezovic was watching, we may never know. Baxter’s arrival and early 4-1 defeat against Mamelodi Sundowns was generally lampooned but Kaizer said: “We made those changes late in the season. We took a lot of criticism. Football is a game of opinions. But we knew where we wanted to go and what we required.”

Perhaps now would be a good time to express an interest. As a kid in what was then known as Verwoerdburg (now Centurion) I was one of the few, using foreign football magazines like Shoot and Goal, to find out about Motaung’s return to South Africa in 1970.

There was not television, no internet, only censored print media to keep in touch with the real world, where all men were equal. There weren’t many black male icons in South Africa in those days who weren’t behind bars, banned or banished.

Kaizer was one. The one. Famous in the US for his exploits amid the global superstars at Atlanta Chiefs he returned to set up his own team and take on the side he grew up with in Soweto, the famous Orlando Pirates.

I met him for the first time in the early 80s as a football writer on Durban’s Natal Mercury. I was totally intimidated. By then Chiefs were the biggest club in the old NPSL and the fledgling NSL. The man had presence, authority; in the old South Africa he was a revelation.

And he remains just that. While others squabble over the fruits, he just gets on with it, surrounded by his own family and an estimated 15million AmaKhosi nationwide.

And to add the icing to the cake which has cheered so many, Chincha Guluva confirmed his iconic Zebras WILL compete in the African Champions League next season – hopefully alongside his old Pirates if they come through a tough qualifying group over the next three months.

Kaizer said: “We ARE committed to CAF. Playing in Africa means we are representing our country and it is something we cannot shy away from.

“It is expensive – and there was no sponsorship of the competition when we first got involved. That’s why South African teams pulled out.

“Now it is sponsored, even though it is not adequate and that's why as the PSL, we give the clubs that participate there R1 million.”

But Kaizer knows full well the pitfalls of travelling north: “CAF need to improve in a lot of areas. You saw what happened to Pirates in the Congo.”

This will appear as my regular "Neal and Pray" column in The New Age on Tuesday morning.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The championship chat: Stuart Baxter on Mashemaite, Khune, SAFA, referees... and that dodgy start

Title winner: Stuart Baxter

THE opening sentences of my post-championship chat with Stuart Baxter were, as I promised, the most difficult. An apology. Here’s how it went.

ME: “Stuart, how’s it going? Must have been hectic after Polokwane! Well done mate, never in doubt!”

BAXTER: “Yup, it’s been busy. Hey, I had this guy here, think you know him, keeps asking another question. And another! We’re on the road to Mbombela. It’s been great… all the fans…”

ME: “Look, before we say anything, I’ve got to apologise Stuart. We’ve spoken a couple of times during the season but there’s something I have to say. At the start, all that stuff about your CV and the 4-1 defeat against Mamelodi Sundowns, I jumped on that bandwagon. And you proved me wrong.”

BAXTER: “Not a problem, honestly. You’re always very positive. I always like positivity. Forget it, we’ve done the job. No problem at all.”


After that, it was fun. The current PSL is blessed with a number of articulate, easy-to-chat-to coaches. Roger de Sa, Steve Khompela, Clive Barker, Gavin Hunt, Zeca Marques. Baxter’s right up there.

“Look, it’s been brilliant. I was locked in the presidential suite because I was suspended at the Peter Mokabe (where Chiefs drew 1-1 to clinch the title on Tuesday against SuperSport United) so I couldn’t soak up the atmosphere until the end.

“But once I got down there, it was magnificent. The AmaKhosi (pronounced in the British manner) are wonderful people.”

I mentioned the gathering of Motaungs. How, finally, the family business had got together for the nation with Jessica, Bobby and Kaizer Junior taking it in turns to heap praise on their father, coach, team and fans. Is there another club anywhere in the world like that, I asked the man who has coached in Britain, Scandinavia and Asia?

“It’s a special club this. Talented people. Good people. In some ways it’s better than where I’ve been before. I some ways it’s been tough, but I expected that.

“Some of the dealings with SAFA are difficult, strange things happen. And the officiating is still concerning… some of the decisions…

“But for me the best thing, the bit I’ve enjoyed the most, is working with the players. I’m not going to put them through boring drills and put them in position. I'm not that kind of coach. We watch videos, discuss what we’re doing… and then go out and play small-sided games. Love it. We all do.

"These players are called Glamour Boys, but they responded so well to my methods.

“We started off just showing the players the Manchester United stuff on video, the coaching videos with footage from Europe, South America, Africa. But then we started to change it. Show some local stuff. Recent action. We ended up watching Bayern Munich.

“They’re the side of the moment, we watch and learn.”

And the surprise player? The hidden gem in the first championship team at Naturena for eight years? Surely, I said, that has to be Tefu Junaid Mashamaite, the 28-year-old born, ironically, in Bochum, the most German-sounding town in Limpopo?

“Good spot,” laughs Baxter, the first foreign coach to win the PSL in his first season, “He’s been a revelation. Always up for it, hard, knows what’s expected of him.”

I made the point: “Pirates fell apart when Siya Sangweni got injured after the African Cup of Nations, but when Tower Mathoho and Morgan Gould got crocked, you had Mashemaite.”

Baxter responded: “Exactly. When we needed him, Tefu was there. All season. It’s players like that who win you championships.

“But you have to mention Itu Khune too. Before I got here, some people told me he wasn’t really a captain, but something must have changed.

“He talks well, he motivates, he cares. Great goalkeeper, great captain.

“Look Neal, I’m here for the long term. I said when I got here I would address the structures at this club, not just the first team and the first season.

“We’re doing that. We haven’t just won the title, we’ve got the Nedbank Cup to come on May 25 – and we know how tough it will be against Gavin Hunt.

“But we’ve also put other things in place. We have exciting things happening at Naturena which I’d like to talk about after the final.

“Our young players will have a way forward, our academy is about to be reborn. I have nutritionists, a university, sports psychologists working with me to produce the next generation of Chiefs.

“This doesn’t end here. This is, I hope, just the beginning. Call me after the final, come down and see what we're building at Kaizer Chiefs. I think you'll be impressed.”

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Stuart Baxter: an apology. And a massive pat on the back as Kaizer Chiefs are crowned PSL champions

Major celebration: Scorer Majoro leads the way in Polokwane last night

SO it’s done. Kaizer Chiefs grabbed the point needed to clinch their first Premier Soccer League title in eight years and a vast AmaKhosi gathering in Polokwane were able to dance Wednesday night away.

Predictably, Gavin Hunt’s SuperSport United refused to let the title-winning evening become a romp and the 1-1 draw at the Peter Mokabe Stadium means Chiefs failed to win in their last five games – but still they were crowned champions with one game to play against AmaTuks this weekend in Mbombela.

The Nedbank Cup final on May 25 at the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban will once more pit Stuart Baxter against Hunt. Clearly, the Chiefs double will not be a doddle.

But really, that’s the point. For years, many have doubted the authenticity of South Africa’s premier division. Like the NFD just below it, the game has long been scarred by rumours of corruption, match-fixing and referee-hugging.

No more. The title run in saw both Soweto Giants tripped up again and again by teams with absolutely no right – in terms of wages, playing staff and fan base – to deny champions Orlando Pirates of glory-reclaiming Kaizer Chiefs.

But they did. Relegation threatened Capetonians Chippa United and Ajax Cape Town BOTH pulled off shock wins a fortnight before the title was decided. Again and again both the AmaKhosi and the Buccaneers were unable to force home the advantage. Referees stood firm, the opposition gave their all – particularly at Platinum Stars, where Cavin Johnson has produced a side capable of taking on the best and finishing second in the PSL.

The days when Chiefs, Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns could expect their opponents to lie down or a referee to award a few dodgy penalties appear to be behind us. While Germany, Spain, England and Italy saw their domestic leagues decided weeks before the end of the season, in South Africa Chiefs had to battle to the final days.

The scenes after the AmaKhosi success warmed the heart. The self-styled “family business” were on parade, with founder Kaizer’s iconic daughter Jessica joining her brothers Bobby and Kaizer Junior to add their words of congratulation.

Doc Khumalo, forced to take charge with Baxter suspended and communicating by cell phone up in the director’s box, was effusive. Local politicians jostled for air-time, to share in the riiiiise of the AmaKhosi with their estimated 15m fans.

In England, both Dean Furman, Gary Lineker and dozens of others expressed an interest via twitter – though it had to be explained to some that Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa were the inspiration behind the British pop group Kaiser Chiefs rather than the other way round.

And there was me. Eating humble pie. In August last year, when Chiefs were soundly thumped by Johan Neesken’s Sundowns 4-1, I wrote this as we reeled after Baxter’s disastrous opening foray.

With clear evidence of CV inflammation and signs of early lack of communication and understanding of the “South African footballing style” it appeared the man from Wolverhampton would be thrown to the wolves.

Instead, he bounced back almost immediately, with Bernard Parker scoring four times in the opening trouncing of AmaZulu. And they never looked back, losing just twice all season as Jessica’s “reclaiming the glory” motto came gloriously to pass.

I have just sent an SMS to Stuart, hoping to talk to him on what promises to be a busy day of interviews and congratulations.

I have spoken to him since I wrote those early pieces, but I’ve never really been able to say: “I got you wrong Stuart. I’m a doos/twat.” Which is what I must do later today, if he rings back.

In the meantime, as I said last week, I hope Baxter gets the chance to build on this title – as the first foreigner to win the PSL in his inaugural season he certainly deserves an extended tenure.

He has spoken of development structures at a club where the academy was closed down due to age cheating. He has talked of developing a style of play at a club which has seen a rapid turnover of coaching staff.

Now it’s Baxter to the future. Time to create a legacy. Time to shrug off the early critique. Sir Alex Ferguson was written off in his early years at Old Trafford but went on to win 13 titles and 38 trophies in 26 years.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Baxter to the future: why champions Kaizer Chiefs should consider doing a Sir Alex Ferguson

Cup-lifting: Chiefs have had the upper hand this season

IF Kaizer Chiefs were to do the unthinkable and LOSE 1-0 to SuperSport United tomorrow night, the PSL title would still be in the balance.

Then, IF the mighty AmaKhosi were to lose 1-0 to AmaTuks on Saturday, and IF Platinum Stars crush SuperSport by say, 9-0 in their final League game, the side from Phokeng would actually lift the title by a single goal.

Those aren’t just three mighty improbable IFS. In footballing teams, for all three of those results to come to pass is, of course, impossible.

The truth is, Stuart Baxter has achieved what no other foreign coach has managed in the history of the PSL. The man from Wolverhampton has won the league title at his first attempt.

It hasn’t always been pretty, it’s had a lot to do with the failure of his rivals – Roger de Sa’s Orlando Pirates have been mis-firing since the African Cup of Nations (when Ironman Siya Sangweni got injured) and Cavin Johnson’s  Stars somehow contrived to lose to 2-1 to Golden Arrows on Saturday.

No doubt, in his title-winning speech tonight, Baxter will mention “transitions” and “pride” before finally being able to write the words “championship” on his much-debated CV.

Good on him. Baxter arrived to replace the no-nonsense Vladimir Vermecovic after a brief spell where the AmaKhosi were coached by a bunch of trusted former players.

Few expected the former Bafana coach to achieve what Chiefs haven’t since 2005. But the signings of Tower Mathoho and Morgan Gould – between injuries – certainly helped. Bernard Parker’s burst of four goals in the opening game against AmaZulu saw him and his side stay ahead of the bunch all season.

But the unquestionable star of the AmaKhosi’s reclaiming of this lady Gloria was one Itumeleng Khune. The One. Consistently near-perfect in his shot-stopping and distribution, the Bafana goalkeeper starred for his nation in Afcon and – apart from a Vampire-like fear of crosses and a couple of glitches against Ajax Cape Town down the closing stretch – he has been responsible for the riiiiiiise of the Zebras.

When Khune went AWOL for much of last season, the damage was always apparent.

For the crocodiles from the North West there can be only a toothless smile of “what might have been” as Johnson’s Dikwena finish closest in the League and accept extra-time elimination from the Nedbank Cup at the semi-final hurdle against Gavin Hunt’s stubborn SSU.

It’s Orlando Pirates who must harbour the deeper sense of grievance. Shock defeats against Chippa-Choppa United and Mamelodi Sundowns after the “Drawlando” stretch of six stalemates leaves coach Roger de Sa with the African Champions League as his only, distant hope.

Judging from the SMSes that fly between us, I’d say Roger is only a step short of the Sea Robbers’ plank. Shakes Mashaba is touting himself as a replacement, but I suspect Irvin Khoza is thinking big with former AFCON winners Herve Renard of Zambia and Nigeria’s flighty Steve Keshi on a long short list.

Manchester United fans were signing “We’ve got the title back, and Mancini’s got the sack” against Swansea on Sunday. Chiefs fans might be excused for inserting De Sa’s name in to that catchy little number tomorrow night. As far as he knows, Roger remains employed, insisting: "I've got a three-year contract, you can see it if you want."

So after their inevitable crowning at Polokwane or Mbombela this week, the Zebras move on to the double, where the Hunt – it’s always him – stands against the mighty AmaKhosi in the Nedbank Cup final on May 25.

Few doubt Chiefs, and their patient following of a reputed 15million, are serious favourites to add the pre-eminent knock-out trophy to their league title. And for that Baxter – and Khune – must take the plaudits.
Unexpected? A little. Deserved? Yes, though they needed a little prompting from their rivals.

The question now is: can Baxter build a legacy, a tradition? Like Sir Alex at United, Chiefs deserve – need – a long-running coach. One who can pull the club together from bottom to top.

Is Baxter that man? Will De Sa and the rapidly rising Pitso Mosimane at Mamelodi Sundowns get the chance to do the same with a full season in charge? We'll soon find out. 

A story similar to this will appear as my "Neal and Pray" column in The New Age tomorrow.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


DEATH ON THE TOUCHLINE: Jock Stein collapses in Cardiff, 1985... a
young Alex Ferguson can be clearly seen behind him

SIR ALEX FERGUSON is 71. Next month he is due for a hip operation, delayed until the end of Manchester United’s 20th title-winning season.

Unless you live on Uranus, you’ll know Sir Alex Ferguson retired today, giving an eloquent statement and suggesting “the time was right” just days after insisting he had "no plans to walk away".

Curious. Why would Sir Alex change his mind so abruptly? What sparked his decision?

I think I may have the answer. On 10 September 1985, Scotland drew 1–1 with Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff, securing a play-off against Australia which would lead to qualification for the 1986 FIFA World Cup.

On that fateful day 28 years ago, the legendary Scottish football manager Jock Stein suffered a heart attack at the end of the game and died shortly afterwards in the stadium's medical room.

He was 62 years old, nearly a decade younger than Sir Alex, who considered big Jock a hero and his mentor.

Sir Alex was there that day. Right next to the man he considered a father figure. He was Scotland’s assistant manager, in recognition of his phenomenal achievements at Aberdeen. Ferguson went on to lead the team in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, without great success, months before moving to Manchester United.

Here’s how Sir Alex remembers that day: “When Davie (Cooper) put the penalty in, Jock didn’t say a word. Shortly afterwards the big man rose to move towards Mike England (the Wales coach).

"But as he did, he stumbled. I grabbed for him as he started to fall. The medics came out of the tunnel. I held him until he was helped inside.

“When I left to speak to the press I saw Graeme Souness (suspended that day and on the bench) and he was crying. “I think he’s gone,” Graeme said. I couldn’t believe it.

“When we filed on to the bus there were thousands standing outside and the quiet sadness of the atmosphere was unforgettable. The abiding memory is of a solemn silence.

"It was as if the king had died.”

Stein was later found to have suffered a massive heart attack. Professor Stewart Hillis, the Scotland doctor that night, was also Big Jock's general practitioner. Years later he recalled: “Near the end of the game, all the photographers were cramming around the Welsh bench at 1-0.

"Everything changed though when Cooper's penalty went in. The focus changed to our bench.

"Jock ushered at least one photographer away. He looked his normal self, strong and vital.

Close: Jock and Alex on the Scotland bench
"But with around two minutes to go, the referee's whistle sounded and Jock thought the match was over. He got up and then collapsed to his knees.

"We had a full medical team in the stadium's medical room. We were trying to revive him.

"His last words were, 'I'm feeling much better now, doc'. But I knew there was nothing more that could possibly have been done. We had all the available equipment.

"I stayed with Jock after he was gone. He had heart muscle disease and was supposed to be taking tablets to help remove fluid from his body. It was later revealed he had been skipping the tablets."

Sir Alex will never forget that night. Is it possible that, during preparations for his hip operation, the world’s greatest manager was told he had blood pressure problems? He often looks red-faced, as most do at his age. A “dodgy ticker” as they might say in England?

Pure speculation of course, from 5,000 miles away. We may never know the truth. There may not be one. But I’d suggest Sir Alex’s abrupt turnaround and decision to quit won’t have been made without images of that night in Cardiff clear in his mind. Death on the touchline tends to linger in the memory of a football coach.

After all, today was quite a shock for United fans and shareholders. Just last Sunday, in his programme notes before the 1-0 defeat against Chelsea at Old Trafford, Ferguson responded to questions about his future by saying: “I certainly don’t have any plans at the moment to walk away from what I believe will be something special.

“This team of champions is not going away - we are here for the long ride.

“We will get better and if we apply ourselves in our normal fashion, I see our 20th league title as nothing but the start of another decade of success.

“Whether I will be here to oversee another decade of success remains to be seen, but I certainly don’t have any plans at the moment to walk away from what I believe will be something special and worth being around to see.”

Working on in to your 70's is hardly unusual these days. But managing a football team? Particularly Manchester United? Such pressure would tax a man half his age. As Sir Alex said today: “I am looking forward to the future now."

Sir Alex Ferguson, 71, retires after 27 years: the statement in full

Old Trafford legend: Sir Alex Ferguson

There is little that can be added to the statement released by Sir Alex Ferguson today. At 71, after 27 years at Old Trafford, with a hip replacement operation looming, he's GONE. Fergie will stay on as a director at Manchester United and will bow out publicly before the home game against Swansea on Sunday.

Since taking over an ailing giant from Ron Atkinson in 1986, Sir Alex won 38 trophies: 13 league titles, two Champions League crowns, five FA Cups and four League Cups.
Jose Mourinho has been installed as favourite to take over from Ferguson by bookmakers, with Everton's David Moyes and Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp also in the running.

Here's how his retirement was announced:

“The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly. It is the right time.

"It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so. The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.

"Our training facilities are amongst the finest in global sport and our home Old Trafford is rightfully regarded as one of the leading venues in the world.

"Going forward, I am delighted to take on the roles of both Director and Ambassador for the club. With these activities, along with my many other interests, I am looking forward to the future.

"I must pay tribute to my family, their love and support has been essential. My wife Cathy has been the key figure throughout my career, providing a bedrock of both stability and encouragement. Words are not enough to express what this has meant to me.

"As for my players and staff, past and present, I would like to thank them all for a staggering level of professional conduct and dedication that has helped to deliver so many memorable triumphs. Without their contribution the history of this great club would not be as rich.

"In my early years, the backing of the board, and Sir Bobby Charlton in particular, gave me the confidence and time to build a football club, rather than just a football team.

"Over the past decade, the Glazer family have provided me with the platform to manage Manchester United to the best of my ability and I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with a talented and trustworthy Chief Executive in David Gill. I am truly grateful to all of them.

"To the fans, thank you. The support you have provided over the years has been truly humbling. It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to lead your club and I have treasured my time as manager of Manchester United."

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A LITANY OF LIES: the full, unbelievable statement from TP Mazembe after their attempt at match-fixing went awfully wrong

Who do you think you're fooling? TP Mazembe president Moise

HERE it is, the full unbelievable statement from TP Mazembe president Moise Ktumbi Chapwe. A litany of lies and misinformation, produced specifically for an international audience and released to the world's media today.

In these nine ridiculous paragraphs, Mr Moise - who stayed at the home of Orlando Pirates chairman Dr Irvin Khoza just two weeks ago - makes a mockery of South Africa and the African Champions League.

In case you live on Uranus, these are the REAL facts the Buccaneers' miraculous progress in Lubumbashi, in the Katanga province, where billionaire Moise is the "elected" governor who constantly wars with the Kishasa government. And if you want further proof, see the video above.

1: The SABC, having paid R2m and organised a series of advertisers for the live broadcast of the tie, had their television and radio journalists mistreated. Their feed was cut off. South Africa - and the rest of the world - received NO LIVE COVERAGE of the game.

2 Three SABC employees, including Veli Mbuli, had their telephones taken and were held against their will. Others, including the SAFA observer, were refused access to electronic media and were unable to pass on information.

3 The Seychellois referee sent off Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi in a laughable incident. The home team were awarded TWO dubious penalties, both saved by Senzo Meyiwa, the hero of the hour.

4 Experienced coach Roger de Sa described the refereeing as "the worst I have seen in 35 years. Disgusting." SAFA head of delegation Elvis Shishana supported De Sa, saying: “It was a terrifying experience. Our lives were at risk.”

But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a scandalous press release? Here's TP Mazembe's view:

Management of TP Mazembe wish to distance itself from reports in the South African media that journalists that travelled to cover this match on Sunday 6th May, 2013 were prevented to carry out their duties.

It must be stated that we are a law-abiding club and that believes in fair play.

All the international journalists that travelled for the match and were duly accredited were ushered into the press tribune were they covered the match unhampered.

The media reports that journalists from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) were arrested after the match are totally unfounded and false.

There is no record of any arrests and the club has also verified these accusations with the South African consular in Katanga province who are not aware of any journalists from South Africa being arrested.

In fact, journalists from SABC even had an interview with the TP Mazembe president on Monday May 6th 2013.

We trust that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) appointed very competent match officials for this match.

We therefore appeal to our brothers and friends from Orlando Pirates to wait for the match commissioners report to address issues that are of a technical nature.

Further, there was no sabotage whatsoever on the part of TP Mazembe for the match not to be screened on SABC.

The truth is that there was a technical fault on the part of the  Congolese television station that was supposed to relay the feed to SABC. As a result, the match was not even on Congolese TV.

TP Mazembe and Orlando Pirates enjoy a very good and warm relationship which also extends to the two countries’people.
Issued by:

Moise Katumbi-Chapwe
President-TP Mazembe

What a character this self-styled "football and mining tycoon" Mr Moise is. Does he really think he can fool South Africans? Given his "close" relationship with Dr Khoza it appears unlikely Pirates will press for action but SAFA – and the SABC – appear determined to see justice done.

This is not, as PSL spokesman Luxulo September suggested to me before my eNCAnews appearance on Monday “an anti-African crusade” it is an attempt clean up the continent’s Champions League and to put people like Moise and CAF president Issa Hayatou in their place.

Will anything be done? Khoza says he’s “waiting for the referee and match commissioner reports” but of course, they are unlikely to do more than provide a whitewash of a corrupt attempt at match-fixing which went horribly wrong.

Sadly, the tough guy who runs South African football has been reduced to the Iron Duck, desperately trying to avoid confrontation with the powerful figures in African football.  He talks not of corruption but the "six star hotel" his players were offered and how football is about "building relationships and making friends".

Rubbish. African football needs to be cleaned up. I've taken incredulous calls from all over the world in the last two days as my earlier blogs collected a combined readership of close to 30,000. Nobody could quite believe what they were reading. Action must be taken to stop a repeat. I doubt anything meaningful will happen on that front.

But no matter what happens, the fact that the Buccaneers lost 1-0 and went through to the group stages 3-2 on aggregate will remain one of the great results of all time. Pity we didn’t get to see it!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Lucky and Senzo with Robert Marawa: The MetroFM interview every Orlando Pirates fan - and South African - must read

Home safe: Senzo Meyiwa and Luck Lekgwathi with Rob tonight

It's not something you do too often as a football writer. But Robert Marawa's interview with Orlando Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa tonight on MetroFM was just too good to miss.

Here it is, the chat with Lekgwathi, sent off in the first half of the troubled African Cup of Nations clash at TP Mazembe in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the heroic Meyiwa, who saved TWO penalties to ensure their survival. The 1-0 defeat ensured progress to the group stages on a 3-2 aggregate win.

With the game blacked out in Lubumbashi, we discover some of the unseen details, the fear of poisoned juice at the hotel, Lucky being forced to stay in the dressing room, Meyiwa's faith in God... and how they only discovered the match hadn't been televised afterwards!

With tears and prayers aplenty, this is how it went:

Lucky: “They welcomed us well, the ambassador was there, we had a safe trip. The hotel was nice, we didn’t have to share rooms! I reckon five star, serious. Nice hotel, it was okay.

“The coach called us for a morning swim. We had to leave hotel at 12noon. Three hours in the stadium! We had a meeting at 11am, we ate. We asked for juice. They said it was finished.

“So we said, we’ll have water. Then they brought juice. We said, don’t drink it. The jug wasn’t sealed. You don’t know what they put inside the juice three hours before the game.

“We just drank water, we went to the stadium. Bottled water from the hotel. Sealed. We went to the stadium. There were police to escort us. Okay, we were singing.

“Roger said we must just forget the supporters. Back to the changing room. The opposition were showing arrogance.

“We started to play. We played very well to start. After 35 minutes, keeper played a long ball. I was in front of Mobutu. He kicked me from behind. The referee ran up and gave me a red card. I asked him why, he just said “kwa kwa”.

“But the players said they would die for me after I’d been sent off.”

Over to Senzo Meyiwa: “Once we got to Lubumbashi, we saw how the supporters are treating the “foreigners”. The hotel was okay. Made some phone calls, sleeping along. Then the issue of the juice, we suspected it was poisoned. We drank water.

“Went to the stadium, they showed us respect the supporters. There was one bang on the bus. We said “hey what’s going on” but it was okay. They gave us the treatment we deserved. They could see we were being robbed.

“What I can say, the referee can be on their side, but God said nothing will change. That gave us strength to make South African supporters proud of us.

“It was not a red card for Lucky. Not even a yellow. He was tackling Lucky. I thought he might give him a coaching, a yellow, but straight red.

“PENALTY NUMBER ONE: that was not a penalty. I told myself, let me do it for the country, for Orlando Pirates supporters, for the country, for the team. We’re in the Congo, we’re doing it for the nation. I told myself: I will do my best.”

Lucky: “After I was sent off I took a shower, then I wanted to go back and watch. They said no. There was a lady who said to us, it’s going to be tough. An old mama. I thought what she said to us.

“So I’d been told I can’t watch. When they told me we won, I started crying. They said Senzo saved two penalties. Juuuus!

“I said, you know what, we won the game because of God.”

Senzo: “They were wearing black and white. I thought they were supporting Orlando Pirates! When you’re playing away games, there’s not as much pressure. You can do anything you want and then you go home.

“I was doing everything. I was not scared of the supporters behind my back. Even the guy, before he kicked the first penalty, I could see myself saving it.

“How did I guess right? Eish, I don’t know. I stood behind the line. So there was no chance of a retake. I just stand there, watch this guy, then I tell him straight: “YOU WON’T SCORE”. He was laughing, I said it again.

“And then I made the save.”

“SECOND PENALTY: I caught it, I could see they wanted to follow up. Before the second one, a yellow card. When they were busy fighting with the referee. I was alone at the goal post. I said: “God, you want us to fail this thing? Please God, give me POWER. I believe in you.

“It was towards the end of the game. And then I cried. God came to me, he said “I know you, you’ll do it.

“The captain, who plays in the national team, he took it this time. He was scared. I go to him. I shout. He saw I was crying. He thought: “This keeper’s mad eh?”

“I thought “come to me” and I managed to save it. I said: YEEEEEES!

“It was one of those penalties where he stopped before he took it. I didn’t even move.

“You know, God was inside me. That was not Senzo Meyiwa. God himself was in me. He saved my team, he saved the nation, he made the nation proud of me.”

Marawa: “I can see the tears welling up in your eyes right now.”

Lucky: “You know what, I was with Rudolf Bester. I told him to close the door of the dressing room so I couldn’t hear them score.

“I was praying, crying, Please God! But before we left South Africa, the old mama, I was playing for her. 
Before we left, on the Wednesday, there was a pastor who played for us in Orlando. The Pirate ladies gave me a certificate for “the best captain ever”. They were there, it was a surprise at a lunch.

“The pastor prayed. He said this is for the captain. It was a big motivation for the younger players.

“Thanks to the Orlando Pirates ladies. May God bless them.

“We thought everybody was watching us in Lubumbashi! After the game, they told us the game was not televised, I heard from the girl sitting next to me!”

Roger that: Orlando Pirates coach De Sa reveals TP Mazembe experience makes him want to walk away from football

I feel like Rambo: Roger de Sa after the trip to TP Mazembe

Orlando Pirates coach Roger De Sa admitted yesterday he felt like “walking away from football” after the extraordinary scenes at TP Mazembe on Sunday.

The gritty 48-year-old saw his side escape from the Democratic Republic of Congo with a 1-0 defeat which sees the Buccaneers go through to the group stages of the African Champions League 3-2 on aggregate.

The game in Lubumbashi saw three SABC operatives detained as Mazembe blanked out coverage of a game which saw Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi sent off and TWO penalties awarded to the home team.

De Sa said: “I feel a bit like Rambo this morning. We expected trouble but nothing like that. I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about it. All the things that happened. What they tried to do to us.

“In the end it’s not about football when you see the way TP Mazembe handled themselves. To be honest, I feel like walking away from the game. If somebody called me and offered me a job outside football I’d take it.

In the Lions den: The Pirates bench on Sunday
“But then you calm down, and you realise the national pride in our result. Look, what these people did is bad for the game, it’s bad for Africa."

Pirates made the trip north knowing TP Mazembe president Moise Katumbe Katwe runs the football team and governs the DRC province of Katanga. Buccaneers chairman Irvin Khoza, who also runs the PSL and is a vice-president of SAFA, had assured his side there would be no trouble having had Moise as a house guest just two weeks ago.

But De Sa said: “The intimidation, the officials, the way we were treated. It’s disgusting. Still, we’re through. There must have been a stronger force at work for that to happen.

“I warned the players what would happen. When we got to the ground, it was filled to capacity. They’ve build a great stadium, a huge fan base – so we walked on the pitch in our suits and we absorbed the crowd. They walked around, they sang. We felt no fear.

"I showed the lads videos of what has gone on in games like this before. We were prepared for it.

“But then, when you have referees and officials like that, I mean what can you do? Their first plan was to send off our captain. Then the penalties. Senzo Meyiwa was heroic. We were one goal away from going out.

“What do you do about it? They stopped all coverage of the game on television and radio. They took away the mobile phones so nobody could say anything. In the end the referee’s decision is final and we have nothing to show CAF or FIFA.”

Amid reports that the officials from the Seychelles refused to speak English and TP Mazembe failed to submit a formal team sheet, it appears further action should be taken but De Sa sighed: “We’ve known about this kind of thing for years.

“I just find it unbelievable things like this can happen. Some people there actually think it’s right to do these things, to win at all costs.

“It can’t be right. But we gradually built up to this. To be honest when we went to Zambia in the last round there were signs of it. Now we go to the group stages, and we’ll soldier on.

“I have to say all the lads were heroes. They played so well. At one point we even considered walking off when the penalties were awarded.

“But we stuck it out. And we’re through. I hope I can sleep tonight.”