Tuesday Dec 10, 2019. 14:00
The rousing reception received by Mamelodi Sundowns mentor Pitso Mosimane from both Wydad Casablanca fans and players at the weekend speaks volumes for the popularity of a coach fast becoming a major star on the continent.
Mosimane was embraced by Wydad players, while their fans chanted his name after the 0-0 draw in their CAF Champions League pool match in Morocco on Saturday.
Much of that will come from familiarity, the two teams have now met an astonishing nine times in the Champions League since September 2017, meaning there has been plenty of interaction between the two.
But is also a nod to Mosimane’s ambition to grow both the Sundowns brand, and his own, on the African continent. It is clearly working.
While many coaches of South African clubs are happy to pick up a lucrative salary each month that needs to be safeguarded with success on the domestic front, Mosimane has long targeted continental glory.
He thinks well beyond the Absa Premiership, MTN8, Telkom Knockout and Nedbank Cup, citing the Champions League as the true test of his team’s quality. He simply wants to play on a bigger stage than the others.
Since taking over at Sundowns in 2012, he has trumpeted the Champions League as the ultimate battleground and his success in the tournament in 2016 remains the pinnace of his coaching career, despite four league titles in the last six years.
It makes him South Africa’s most popular coach outside of the country and a much-needed ambassador for the game on a continent that has not always taken kindly to a perceived arrogance from local clubs for the African club competition.
South Africans teams often cite expense, travel chaos and conditions as excuses for why they loath to compete in CAF competitions, but Mosimane has been a breath of fresh air with his opposite view.
His straight-talking style rubs some up the wrong way on the home front, but is viewed with admiration and respect on the continent, especially in north Africa where they generally call a spade a spade.
When he complains about a congested fixture list for his side, that can see them play over 50 matches in a season while other coaches bemoan tired players over a 35-game campaign, he is dealing in facts, not excuses. But it is not always perceived this way.
Mosimane has also always been generous in his praise of others, and shown his admiration for clubs, such as Wydad, who are successful on the African continent.
While the instinct of other coaches is to protect their reputation by finding a myriad of excuses in defeat, Mosimane has never shied away from his own disappointments and those of his team.
His tactical acumen and ability to think out the box, such as 1am training for his players, is another factor in keeping his team fresh and, for the opposition, unpredictable.
Longevity in South African football is rare, but Mosimane has won the right to ride out the sticky patches his side may go through by both his methods and his successes.
He knows there will be ups and downs in the coming years, but will also believe he has the smarts to get his side through.
If he could lift the Champions League for as second time in the next few years, it truly would cement his place as South Africa’s greatest coach … if he is not there already.