RHULANI Mokwena is a likeable young man whose enthronement as head coach this season was warmly accepted by the Orlando Pirates faithful.
After all, the sharp-witted manager is the grandson of the Soweto giants’ legend Eric “Scara” Sono who captained the Buccaneers in the 1960s. Mokwena’s uncle Jomo Sono, who owns Jomo Cosmos FC, is also an icon of the Sea Robbers. Meanwhile, his father, Julius, also played for Pirates.
This family legacy with eZimnyama, however, may not be enough to protect him from the wrath of the fans should Bucs’ poor form continue against arch rivals Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday in the Telkom Knockout quarter-final at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Under Mokwena Pirates have been dumped out of the MTN8 and the CAF Champions League and the Buccaneers are 13 points adrift of log leaders Chiefs who were not mentioned among the favourites to fight for the title before the season started. On the other hand, Pirates were listed as favourites.
Mokwena can’t afford to lose against Chiefs on Saturday because if he loses, the bragging rights – the only thing that Pirates fans have over Chiefs in the past five years – are history.
The game can go some way in determining his immediate future. A victory will make him the darling among Pirates supporters but defeat will lead to calls for his head.
After a most promising finish last season, Bucs simply hit a snag which started with the departure of coach Milutin “Micho” Sredjovic at the beginning of the term.
Pirates arguably have the most potent squad in the league but Mokwena’s lads have been misfiring despite a lion’s share of possession.
In the past two matches, Pirates enjoyed almost 70 percent ball possession and registered over 50 attempts at goal but scored only once. They have been very poor in the final third.
They need to change all that if they are to steamroll Chiefs on Saturday. Pirates reached the final of the Telkom Knockout last season and anything less than that will be viewed as a step backwards.
The game on Saturday will present an opportunity to showcase what they’re made of. When they needed to beat Highlands Park to reach the MTN8 quarter-finals they succumbed unexpectedly. When they needed to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Green Eagles of Zambia they couldn’t find answers and as a result, they crashed out of that competition. The Buccaneers also faded against their rivals, Bidvest Wits in the league, horrendously going down 4-3.
Their big match temperament will also be put to the test once again this upcoming weekend. If there’s one game that could change their season, it is none aother than the one against their arch-rivals.
Mokwena will be acutely aware that the 90 minutes against the Glamour Boys is different from the 90 minutes against any other team. All the other defeats will not matter if his men manage a victory. Similarly, whatever little success he may have had in since joining the technical team at Pirates will count for nothing if Chiefs reign supreme.