Monday Aug 26, 2019. 12:00
Orlando Pirates’ limp exit from the CAF Champions League could be the death knell to caretaker coach Rhulani Mokwena’s hopes of sealing the job on a permanent basis.
While The Buccaneers have targeted success in the Absa Premiership this season and that remains a top priority, it is no secret that chairman Irvin Khoza covets a second star above his club’s badge.
Success on the African continent, which could also mean reaching the latter stages of the Champions League, has been high on Khoza’s agenda in recent years and has seen him splash out on numerous players and a top technical team.
It has been an expensive exercise that so far has failed, and the question now facing him is whether he entrusts the fate of the club in a rookie coach with no experience of leading a team in the top-flight.
There is no doubt that Mokwena shows potential, and having worked under Pitso Mosimane at Mamelodi Sundowns and then Micho Sredojevic at Pirates, has had two fantastic mentors to learn from.
But it is a very different thing to be thrust into the limelight, your every move strutinised at a club where the expectation is that you win every game.
At the age of 34, you wonder if that is what Mokwena really needs at this stage of his career and is it even fair of Khoza to thrust this responsibility on someone who is younger than his first-choice goalkeeper and only a few years older than many other players in the squad?
You could see it happening at other clubs in the Premier Soccer League, but not an institution like Pirates, where the environment is unforgiving and the lessons harsh.
But you can see why Khoza would be desperate for Mokwena to succeed – he has Pirates in his blood after his grandfather Eric, father Julius and uncle Jomo all played for the club with huge distinction.
He is also highly-regarded as a tactical genius and a young black coach who can take the game forward in South Africa.
But timing is everything in life and to thrust a high-profile team on him now, at a time when they have not won a trophy in five years and are expectant of success this season, could be counter-productive to his career in the long run and ensure he is never trusted again with a top job.
The team lost 1-0 to mid-table Highlands Park in the lucrative MTN8 competition in his first match in charge, and then were held to a 0-0 draw by struggling AmaZulu in the league.
Those were disappointments, but the draw with Green Eagles on Saturday that saw the side eliminated from the Champions League came as a devastating blow.
It has left many questions being asked of Mokwena just three games into his tenure and that is hardly fair on an individual just weeks into his first ever head coach role.
After Pirates play Golden Arrows on Wednesday, a team they have had huge success over in recent times, there is a 24 day break before they play again.
If Khoza is to make his move and bring in a more experienced head coach, this would seem the right time to do it.
Mokwena himself is philosophical about his future and speaks the words of a man who knows he can take nothing for granted.
“I think it’s not about me and I always say this. I think every time I come out, I carry a different responsibility and unfortunately when you’re put into leadership positions, you can’t be selfish or think of yourself,” he told reporters.
“It would be extremely unwise of me to even think of myself and try to get this position [on a permanent basis]. The chairman always says, ‘The moment finds the man, the man doesn’t find the moment’.
“So, we go as we go, with the support that we have. We have a very good team – one that continues to fight and tries their best, they really are honest boys and they try their best.
“We’ve got a really good technical staff that gives a lot of support. We just have to keep working on trying to make sure we overturn the current tide, because at this moment we’re riding against it.
“We’ve just got to remain strong and stick together. I’m the least to worry about at this moment in time.”