Sunday, 24 April 2016

SIMPLY NDORABLE: the astonishing rise of Orlando Pirates and their goal-happy TENdai!

TEN FOR TENDAI: Ndoro is in a rich run of form
SIMPLY NDORABLE. The fairytale of Tinkler Ball. An Orlando Pirates revival that has become too impressive to ignore. And too bizarre to leave unexplored.

In truth, WWWWDWWWW since February 21 should never have happened. Coach Eric Tinkler was widely touted for the axe after the CAF Confederations final defeat at the start of December, but his chairman Irvin Khoza just never got around to chopping off his coach's head.

The man popularly known as #Tinklerout remained in charge confiding in me “what will be, will be, that’s football” as he struggled from game to game before Christmas. At one point the mighty Buccaneers, double treble winners just four years ago, looked a hopeless case in 13th position, just above the top three. Unthinkable for a side NEVER relegated. 

The Sea Robbers, as their nickname suggested, were all at sea complete with leaking ship and powderless cannons.

It got worse. Kermit Erasmus went overboard without warning, and left for France, Thamsanqa Gabuza walked the plank, disappearing from the squad with apparent burn-out. Tinkler, scrambling for a life jacket in an ocean of despair, turned to a 27-year-old from Luwewe in Zimbabwe called Tendai Ndoro. It was sink or swim.

A Chicken Inn product, Ndoro was impressive at Aces, where he scored 14 goals in 41 games, before the big move to Soweto. But despite what looked to me to be a sharp pre-season, Ndoro languished on the bench at Pirates for months. He was lucky to even get a seat as Tinkler stuck with Erasmus, Gabuza and the curiously sluggish Lehlohonolo Majoro.

TOLD YOU SO! My tweet in September last year
questioning the disappearance of Tendai Ndoro
On September 15, 2015, I tweeted about Ndoro being surplus to requirements and sent an SMS to Eric Tinkler, a coach who is always polite enough to reply. He said Tendai was not training well, and had confidence problems. 

But needs must. Let’s return to the low point: 3-0 down at half-time to rock-bottom Maritzburg United on January 16, Ndoro comes on at half-time, fails to score but they grab a point, 3-3.

There’s a few up and downs after that but February 21 is the key point. With Gabuza and Erasmus gone, Ndoro scored in the 3-1 win over an in-form Aces in Mpumalanga.

And then the run began. With Chiefs STILL stuck winless since February 20, here’s the full story of Pirates revival with Ndoro’s goals listed:

21 Feb: 3-1 Aces (a) Ndoro 1
27 Feb: 1-0 Celtic (h)
5 March: 2-0 Chiefs (a) Ndoro 2
12 March: 5-0 Cosmos (h) Ndoro 1
16 March: 0-1 Wits (a)
3 April: 3-1 Cosmos (a) Ndoro 2
9 April: Free State Stars 1-0 (h) Ndoro 1
16 April: Arrows 4-1 (a) Nodder 2
23 April Sundowns 2-0 (a) Ndoro 1

Nine games in all competitions, one defeat.. and TEN GOALS for Tendai Ndoro. Pirates have gone WWWWLWWWW while rivals Chiefs are on a run of DDLLLLLD since mid February. Incredible.

During that time, Tebogo Moloi, the long-running assistant boss at Pirates, has disappeared on long leave. Fitness coach Warren Engelbrecht and effervescent goalkeeping trainer Rowen Fernandez sit alongside Tinkler.

Captain Oupa Manyisa has been out injured and has yet to return. Gabuza has played twice for Bafana but not for Pirates. Crowds at the Orlando Stadium have dipped below 3,000. The Iron Duke called a press conference not to announce exciting new developments but to mark the retirement of near-legendary centre-back Siya Sangweni.

The pressure has never eased. Even at 0-0 against Sundowns on Saturday night, the Ghost were haunting Tinkler. Saying he was tactically inept, should have made changes, was hopeless.

But Tinkler just gritted his teeth and held on, as he has ever since Roger de Sa left for Ajax Cape Town two years ago, even when unlamented Vladimir Vermecovic was making a hash of it. Tinkler doesn’t quit. He hangs on despite the odds. And it worked. Down to ten men, Ndoro scored in extra-time, then made the second goal.

And Tinkler, through to the Nedbank Cup semi-finals, was left smiling: “We were down to 10 and I had to play that way. I knew they would be vulnerable to the break away… and they were.”

Ndoro, with his streaky hair and slick demeanour said simply: “We work hard. We work as a team. We want the Nedbank Cup.”

Now breathing over the shoulders of arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs in the PSL and threatening the top four, Tinkler and Ndoro lifting silverware would be the icing on the cake.

And given the position at Christmas, a true footballing fairy tale.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

THE KAIZER CHIEFS DECLINE: 5 games, 512 minutes without a goal. February 20 since they last won. Tuesday night is a MUST WIN

The man in charge: Bobby Motaung
WHILE the world staggers to accept the fact Lionel Messi has failed to score in 362 minutes  and four matches for the first time since the middle of 2011, I have news of another goal drought which cannot be ignored. Another slump hard to shrug off, like mighty Barcelona not winning a La Liga game in four.

Let me set it out in numbers: Kaizer Chiefs have not scored in six games. They have played 512 minutes of football without a goal. The AmaKhosi have not WON A GAME since February 20, 52 days ago.

Perhaps, as the reigning champions end a season which started with a massacre, then hope… and finally failure, there will be a late turnaround. On Tuesday night, after three weeks off, they play Mpumalanga Black Aces in a bid to end a sequence which few have witnessed as gold-and-black fans.

Here, without further ado, March backwards with Kaizer Chiefs:

0-0 March 20: Asec Mimosas (a)
0-1 March 15: 0-1 Jomo Cosmos (h)
0-1 March 12: 0-1 Asec Mimosas (h)
0-2 March 9: Platinum Stars (a)
0-2 March 5: Orlando Pirates (a)

So, five matches with no goals. In a single month, Kaizer Chiefs plunged out of the Nedbank Cup against arch-rivals Orlando Pirates, failed dismally in the African Champions League against Ghana's out-of-form Asec Mimosas and defeats against Cosmos and Dikwena ended their PSL title hopes.

It gets worse. The sixth game in the pitiful sequence was the infamous walk-over against Volcan di Moroni from the Comoros. We have never had a clear explanation of what happened over the final weekend in February when the opposition were reportedly seen in Johannesburg but never found their way to Durban.

Did Kaizer Chiefs neglect to tell the islanders they weren’t playing at their usual home ground, the FNB Stadium? Did the Volcanos turn up in Jozi and decide they’re rather enjoy the bright lights than go to the seaside in Durban? We may never know.

But I digress. SIX games no goals. The last goal the AmaKhosi scored was in the 1-1 draw against Polokwane City, the night giant Zimbabwean goalkeeper George Chigovu, since charged with match-fixing, won the Man of the Match award by some distance

Yes, it was February 23 when Kaizer Chiefs last scored a goal of any kind. It came from the head of Mulomowandau Eric “Tower” Mathoho from a Siphiwe Tshabalala corner in the 37th minute. It was a goal which levelled the game which finished 1-1, ending a run of four straight wins for Chiefs.

END OF THE ROAD: Bobby Motaung would not let
Baxter sign players at Kaizer Chiefs
Much has been made of the penalties awarded to Chiefs during the successful Christmas period (and those not awarded against them), some have even linked the slump to the suspension of various match official by the South African football association on March 4.

Certainly Kulasande Qongqo, who awarded Chiefs to spurious penalties in the Telkom KO final defeat against Mamelodi Sundowns on December 16, and Johannes Moshidi, the linesman during the controversial win over Bidvest Wits in Cape Town on 19 December, were among the victims. Both were banned for six months.

My rudimentary calculations thus suggest Kaizer Chiefs have not scored in 512 minutes of football. They have not won in six games, they are falling fast, as I said they would when they got rid of coach Stuart Baxter, PSL player of the season Tefu Mashamaite and top-scorer Mandla Masango within weeks of becoming record-breaking 69-point champions last season.

In the long break since their last game on March 20, chairman Kaizer Motaung has emerged to say: "Our supporters are spoilt and when you lose one or two games, you are not good enough.”

But of course, this is not “one or two games” it’s a losing sequence going back to February 20 when they defeated SuperSport United 2-1 in Cape Town.

Motaung insists: "There is no pressing the panic button. If you do that it shows you don't know what you are doing. There is no regret about hiring Steve Komphela.

“We can start judging him from next season because he would have had enough time to tweak the team the way he wants it. Obviously we have to replenish the side. We have to bring in new players next season.

"It won't be a wholesale change like we did before Stuart Baxter. But I think we are going to tweak the squad and make sure we get it right.”

Kaizer appears to forget the signing of Siyanda Xulu, Bongani Ndulula, Camaldine Abraw, Daniel Cardoso and Keegan Ritchie after Baxter left. And the re-signing of Itumeleng Khune when all seemed lost. And the later arrival of Ugandan Sula Matovu. Read through those names, all signed by Bobby Motaung. How much impact have they had?

On Tuesday,  as they travel to play the side two points behind them, Mpumalanga Black Aces, it might be worth considering how last season's "tweak" went. Yes, Aces, the side who nearly sold their PSL franchise to AmaZulu at the start of the season.

The point is this: No goals in 512 minutes, no wins for 52 days from South Africa’s record-breaking champions. I’d say the millions of glory-hungry AmaKhosi fans have been quite patient. Not with chairman Kaizer but with his son Bobby, who actually runs the club.

Anything less than a rousing win on Tuesday night would be simply unacceptable.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Why Shaky is going nowhere fast: the sad tale of South African football

Head man: Shakes Mashaba
ALL hope is lost. Well, just about. There is actually a complicated list of results which could still see battered Bafana Bafana get to AFCON 2017 in Gabon.

But it’s a helluva long-shot. Only Ghana managed to get through to Equatorial Guinea in 2015 with 11 points out of seven group winners. Everybody else topped their groups with 12, 13, 14 or even a perfect 18 points.

The most South Africa can get after their frustrating 0-0 draw against an unambitious Cameroon in Durban last week? NINE POINTS. 

Somehow, if Cameroon and Mauritania contrive to fall over before the line from here, Shaky - as he is now known - might still get through on goal difference if Bafana beat Gambia away and Mauritania at home.

So yes, Mr Mashaba, you’re right. “Our AFCON 2017 campaign is looking darker and darker” but there is a tiny loophole of light.

But it’s the way Shaky tells it that lacks a certain professionalism. A crass mixture of arrogance and denialism never did anybody much good. Ask our president.

Mashaba was waxing lyrical about his chances of making it to Gabon as one of two best runners-up in the group. Again, that will probably require 11 points. But when that was put to him at the press conference, Mashaba responded rudely, asking “who’s view is more important here, yours or mine?”.

The attitude is not new. Mashaba got his son Thabo to ask questions when his imminent failure began to become an acceptable topic last year. And then there was the time he told us: “I’m going to be rude — I think my colour is a problem here. That’s what I’m going to say.”

All patent nonsense of course. Gordon Igesund and a string of Brazilians took far more stick far earlier in their reigns. 

The problem with Mashaba is not his arrogance or his colour. It’s his utter failure to select in-form national squads, his inability to hold on to a lead, his blindness to quick substitutions and... well... South Africa’s general footballing demise over the past 18 months.

Going back to the 2-2 draw in Nigeria in 2014 - which capped off an unbeaten qualification campaign for AFCON 2015 - Shaky has presided over EIGHT African Cup of Nations fixtures. Of those, five were drawn, three were lost... and not a single one has been won.

We left AFCON 2015 with one point. Then came COSAFA and CHAN failures, bracketed by the Group M debacle we now find ourselves embroiled in. A home draw with Gambia was unexpected. Defeat in Mauritania simply unacceptable.

Though Mashaba started his qualifying campaign in 2014 by picking youngsters in line with SAFA president’s VISION2022 programme, by the time AFCON 2015 came around he was doing the usual Bafana boss thing: picking players suggested by his favourite agents, some of whom weren’t even playing for their clubs.

Ignoring in-form players - to the point where he actually accused our one few top-level regular European players he was "too heavy". Going for older and older players and ignoring the Vision2022 blueprint. 

Dennis Mumble, the curious little man who went from Team Manager to CEO at SAFA in the space of four years, insists after the recent qualifying debacle: “The judgement process is already underway. We do not want to react with a knee-jerk.

“We do have the option of telling Mashaba “listen this is not going to work” (before World Cup qualifying begins with the draw in June) but we still have confidence in our head coach.”

Sadly then, and this is a national trend, our leadership will stay intact despite obvious, critical failure at the highest level.

When Mashaba told us after failing at home against Cameroon: “If we play like this we will qualify for the World Cup” his shortcomings were revealed in a sentence.

When I was discussing Kamohelo Mokotjo's complaints in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf today, I got four or five calls from interesting sources in the South African game talking about life under Mashaba.

One, an agent, told me Mashaba only deals with "local agents" and that he gets kickbacks for picking them in his squads. We've been there before. Hard to prove, easy to suggest looking at the continual selection of players who attend club games armed with cushions.

Then there was the former Bafana player revealing how Mashaba's training camps are "like amateur night" and that general chaos surrounds a call up to the South African team. Missed flights, team meetings where Mashaba is an hour late, the time in Latin America where the players stayed in bunk beds while Shaky flew home on the first flight to coach the Nedbank Keyona team.

Or how about the coach who said: "When Shaky suffered a few withdrawals before the Cameroon games, he didn't have any numbers to call replacements. They were scrambling about trying to find somebody, anybody.

"There is no communication with SAFA, there are international players who have not heard from Mashaba since he took over. Others who are called to the squad but just get ignored for a week. We've even had players called up... and then told not to come."

Then, from my mole at SAFA House, THIS: "A senior official told Mashaba to try to be more relaxed with the media. He just laughed. It was suggested he should stand aside for the World Cup qualifiers but he just shrugged his shoulders."

Reading between the lines of this morning's calls, it appears - like our president Jacob Zuma - there is NOTHING that would make Mashaba leave his lucrative leadership role.

With money coming in from SAFA, his expenses, Nedbank and so-called "other sources", Mashaba is earning more than our top PSL coaches for doing a lot less and achieving next to nothing.

One player told me this morning: "He barely talks to some of the squad, particularly the overseas players. He has his favourites. There are agents everywhere. The team talks are a joke, some of us can't even understand what he's saying. He makes references to Apartheid and the struggle, but we have no idea what to do when we go down the tunnel.

"Sometimes he just shrugs and says "I know nothing about the opposition" which isn't great 10 minutes before a vital game."

The clincher for me was from the SAFA House mole: "Mashaba appoints more and more people around him without even asking the Executive. He does as he pleases. He doesn't turn up for meetings if he thinks it's going to go badly for him.

"He doesn't listen when we offer advice, he says: "I know how this works. I know all about how SAFA works" then he simply walks away."

The suggestion - from a series of unsolicited callers/emailers which I obviously can't name - being: SAFA can't fire Shaky because he knows too much. He holds the power. Certainly sounded that way to me.

But it’s not just Shaky is it? We live in a nation where crowd figures and transfer fees are top secret. Three of our four representatives are out of continental club competition. Our referees are as poor as our strikers and Kaizer Chiefs, the nation’s favourite club, haven’t scored in five games.

Mumble himself has admitted SAFA is essentially bankrupt, spending R500m a year with an annual income of R300m - and then they turned to penniless national carrier SAA for help! Danny Jordaan has gone from telling me South African football was his one driving ambition to taking the mayoral role in Port Elizabeth and telling us: “Football is just a hobby for me.”

The only bright point? Zimbabwe, packed with PSL stars, SHOULD get to Gabon. At least we’ll have something to cheer about in 2017.