JOHANNESBURG: “He has achieved his dream, vision and fulfillment, but it’s never the end – he remains a good coach and one of the better coaches I have worked with.”
Those were the words of Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane after his then former right-hand man Rhulani Mokwena was abruptly removed as Orlando Pirates’ interim head coach in December.
“I still believe that he’s going to be better than me, he needs time to do that. There’s enough time. I went from being a head coach at SuperSport United to being an assistant coach (at Bafana Bafana) for five years. So there’s nothing wrong if he can be an assistant again.”
At the time, Mosimane was speaking of Mokwena’s new role as deputy to new Pirates head coach Josef Zinnbauer. But little did he know they’d reunite at Sundowns as coach and assistant six months later.
Mokwena returned to the Brazilians yesterday after his three-year roller-coaster stint with Pirates came to an abrupt end last month.
Mokwena is set to link up with the Brazilians team in Rustenburg, where they are in camp ahead of the restart of the 2019/20 season, as soon as he gets the all-clear after Covid-19 tests.
Three seasons ago, Mokwena exited the gates of Chloorkop as a sophisticated young coach to join Pirates. But this was no ordinary move as he was on course to continue with a well-established family legacy as his grandfather, father and uncle all shone for the Buccaneers.
Just like his predecessors, Mokwena just wanted to succeed at Pirates. For the first two seasons, there were flashes of success alongside renowned coach Micho Sredojevic.
Sredojevic sang Mokwena’s praises: “Besides me, there is a person (Mokwena) that I believe one day – like in athletics – I’ll give him the relay (baton) to go all the way to last the same longevity as Alex Ferguson.”
And when Sredojevic resigned in his third season, Mokwena was thrown in the deep end as the Buccaneers’ interim commander.
Mokwena’s promotion, however, endured more setbacks than progress, considering the club languished in the bottom half of the standings during his reign.
Enter Zinnbauer. The German took charge of his first game in December, inspiring his new charges to an impressive win over Black Leopards as Mokwena looked out of place as an assistant, cutting a disinterested figure under the newly found ‘Messiah’.
Soon thereafter, Mokwena went on “study leave” before being sent out on loan as Chippa United’s head coach in March.
Mokwena only led Chippa against Bidvest Wits before the coronavirus brought the league to a complete halt until now.
However, late last month, his first chapter at Pirates officially came to an end.
For a man who’s obviously gone through the thrills and misery of South African football in the last 12 months, Mokwena has duly returned to Sundowns, where he’ll recharge his batteries under Mosimane.
Mosimane, who recently signed a lucrative new four-year contract with the Premiership champions, has been tasked to bring another CAF Champions League star to the club and that’s why he’ll need men he can trust beside him.
And Mokwena is one of those men.