Mngqithi and Mokwena: Stroke of genius or ill-fated experiment? 

Mngqithi and Mokwena: Stroke of genius or ill-fated experiment? 
Manqoba Mngqithi (Assistant Coach) of Mamelodi Sundowns (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images),Coach Steve Komphela (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images),Coach Rhulani Mokwena (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images)

Will Mamelodi Sundowns’ appointment of two head coaches prove to be a stroke of genius in an attempt to fill the void left by Pitso Mosimane? Or will it all collapse like a house of cards?

Following the departure of Pitso Mosimane from Mamelodi Sundowns, after eight highly successful years at the helm, the board of the Chloorkop-based side elected to find a replacement, or rather, replacements from within their camp. These came in the form of Mosimane’s former assistants – Manqoba Mngqithi and Rulani Mokwena.

Sundowns has also since roped in the experienced Steve Komphela as an assistant to the two head coaches. Steve Komphela tendered his resignation to Golden Arrows on Sunday, 11 October, to take up the position.

“I’m very delighted to be part of this great team, this very successful team. And obviously joining a team of this calibre, expectations will always be there. And beyond that, joining coach Rulani and coach Manqoba, it’s all about sharing brains and thinking, in the best interest of the club,” said Komphela after his introduction to the team.  

For all Komphela’s experience and enthusiasm, most of the pressure to replicate the success of the past eight years – which culminated in a historic treble in the last season – will be on the shoulders of Mokwena and Mngqithi as the head coaches.

Another positive is that both coaches have been at Sundowns for lengthy periods, and thus are accustomed with how things operate within the club.

Mngqithi joined as Mosimane’s assistant in 2013 and had been in the role up until his promotion. Mokwena joined a year later, but departed to work as Milutin Sredojević’s assistant at Orlando Pirates in 2017, before returning again early 2020 after short stints as head coach at Pirates and Chippa United.

“I am very happy to be given such an opportunity to work with this giant team Mamelodi Sundowns, and we hope we will live up to the expectations. It won’t be an easy road, but we understand what is expected of us. Our relationships, harmony, unity and hard work will determine the destiny that we will get at the end,” said Mngqithi following his ascension to the hot seat.

Indeed, the ability to work in unison will be as important as ever for the two head coaches. As much as they worked well under Mosimane, the dynamic was less complicated then. The head was distinguishable from the body, and there was only one brain dishing out instructions to the rest. With this dynamic of two heads and, consequently, two brains, communication and understanding will be paramount for success.

The 49-year-old Mngqithi is obviously the more experienced of the duo, having previously been head coach at AmaZulu and Arrows; famously winning the MTN8 with Abafana Bes’thende in 2009. So, the expectation is that with his experience, he will be the primary brain of the operation.

However, during his short-lived stint as interim coach at Pirates, Mokwena demonstrated that he is not afraid of facing challenges head-on, and will not shy away from taking control of the reins. At just 33 years old, he is still wet behind the ears, but he is someone who is always eager to consume new information and expand his knowledge.

Striking the balance between these two contrasting individuals – who share the common goal of seeing Sundowns match or even surpass the heights reached under Mosimane – will be key. How they incorporate the experience and knowledge of Komphela into that whole setup will also determine the outcome – which, according to the president of the club, Patrice Motsepe, is continued success.

“Manqoba‚ Rulani and the technical team at Sundowns will focus on defending the PSL and the other titles that we won during our historic 50-year anniversary,” said Motsepe.

“They will also advance and continue with the objective that we stated in 2004‚ which is to make Mamelodi Sundowns one of the best clubs on the African continent.”

Although uncommon, the appointing of joint head coaches is not a new phenomenon in football. Tottenham Hotspur tried it with Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence back in the 1992-1993 season, but the duo didn’t keep their jobs for long.

The most high-profile joint-manager operation happened at Liverpool, with Frenchman Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans appointed as joint managers in the 1998-1999 season. It, too, was a short-lived experiment.

Four months into the project, long-time Liverpool servant Evans fell on his sword and left the reins to Houllier, who was said to be the sole favourite for the job to begin with.

Those associated with Sundowns, and who have come to know this side as a formidable force in African football, will hope that this particular experiment does not meet a similar fate, and that they, indeed, will build on their success. DM


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