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Rulani’s last shot at glory

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And that cost Mokwena dearly as he chopped and changed the players in the middle of the park like nobody’s business in his bid to have a better team going forward and solid at the back

The appointment of Josef Zinnbauer must have knocked Rhulani Mokwena’s confidence hard, but he knows there’s no time to sulk and moan.

Following a four-and-a-half-month stint as Orlando Pirates’ interim coach, the young Mokwena was demoted back to his assistant role after the club officially announced Zinnbauer as Micho Sredojevic’s successor a fortnight ago.

Mokwena took over the reins from Sredojevic, who resigned due to ‘personal reasons’ three games into the season.

Redemption

Mokwena’s appointment as interim for a club of Pirates’ calibre was then earmarked as redemption for young South African coaches, who are hardly entrusted to lead the so-called “big clubs” due to inexperience.

The 34-year-old is no ordinary coach having already had successful stints in domestic and continental football after winning the Absa Premiership and CAF Champions League when he was Pitso Mosimane’s deputy at Mamelodi Sundowns.

In the last two seasons at Pirates, Mokwena was given a free role by Sredojevic, who allowed him to run the show at times. And the Serb was even generous enough to tip him as his preferred successor when he eventually left the club. That came sooner than expected. Sredojevic left the Sea Robbers in August after leading them to back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Premiership.

Enter Mokwena, as interim coach. The former Platinum Stars development coach struggled to live up to the hype, leading the Sea Robbers to seventh spot on the Premiership standings, collecting only 14 points in 11 matches.

That return was not good enough to convince Pirates’ managerial board to keep Mokwena at the helm any longer, let alone considering him take the post permanently, as they swiftly turned their ship to Germany, where they got Zinnbauer, who’s an unknown figure locally.

However, with Zinnbauer still awaiting the approval of his work permit, Mokwena is expected to take charge of Pirates’ last game of the year when they welcome Black Leopards to Orlando Stadium tomorrow (3.30pm kick-off).

This encounter will not only give Mokwena a chance to bid farewell to the Ghost, who’ve backed him through thick and thin during the last four months, but it will also give him a platform to bow out and hand over the baton to Zinnbauer in style.

There’s no doubt that Mokwena had created a formidable relationship with the Bucs players over the years, but some well-established and newly-created problems were mostly the fuel that drove his spell as the coach of one of the biggest clubs in the country to a halt.

There’s always been an ongoing problem of a porous defence at Pirates, a deficit that halted their title aspirations in the last two seasons as they came short by five and three points to eventual champions Sundowns. And instead of fixing that defensive problem during the pre-season, the Buccaneers ordered a truck full of midfielders, something that didn’t prove to be effective for the team.

And that cost Mokwena dearly as he chopped and changed the players in the middle of the park like nobody’s business in his bid to have a better team going forward and solid at the back.

Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that Mokwena is a strong prospect for the future, and that’s why his mentor Mosimane believes that he’ll become a better coach than he himself ever was some day – high praise indeed.