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Ex-Pirates boss Rulani Mokwena: ‘Black people set black coaches up for failure’

Orlando Pirates head coach Rhulani Mokwena during the MTN 8, quarter final match Orlando Pirates and Highlands Park at Orlando Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Orlando Pirates head coach Rhulani Mokwena during the MTN 8, quarter final match Orlando Pirates and Highlands Park at Orlando Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Gallo Images

Chippa United coach Rulani Mokwena has said that young black coaches have to fight harder for respect‚ and can be set up for failure‚ in South Africa.

Mokwena related a tale of a “not senior” Orlando Pirates official allegedly calling a player this season to ask if the new caretaker‚ just four days into the job‚ was coping with the position.

The 35-year-old coaching prodigy has had a storied beginning to his managerial career‚ first assisting Pitso Mosimane to the 2016 Caf Champions League title at Mamelodi Sundowns before being poached to assist Milutin Sredojevic for two years at Pirates.

After Sredojevic left in bombshell circumstances three games into the 2019-20 season Mokwena was left to battle to pick up the pieces as caretaker-coach until being replaced by Joseph Zinnbauer in December. He was loaned to be head coach of Chippa in March.

He was asked in an online press conference arranged by the South African Football Journalists Association (Safja) about suggestions that have been made by fellow black coaches of clubs and players not always paying them enough respect.

“If the the question is‚ ‘Is it a thing?’‚ then I’d say I think it’s a sensitive thing‚” Mokwena replied.

“And I think – generalising this‚ because it’s not just about football‚ but of course football is a microscopic reflection of society – generally in society we are not a country that has a culture of believing in young‚ black people.

“Unfortunately‚ generally that’s what it is. And it’s not easy to start a race and you are already handicapped.

“I think time will tell. It’s just a matter of time before everybody gets answers to these things.

“Because I want to say that when I go overseas‚ for example – and I mean‚ it’s crazy – people give me more respect than I get in my own country.

“I think people have more respect outside the country for capacity and ability than they have here in our own country.

“We’re not a country that believes in its own and appreciates its own in general. It’s a pity because we’ll end up losing some of our most talented people.”

Mokwena said giving young coaches a chance at high level clubs is happening internationally‚ citing the example of Julian Nagelsmann‚ the 32-year-old manager of Bundesliga side Red Bull Leipzig who has never played professional football.

“Now‚ here in South Africa it’s very difficult for young coaches to be able to … in fact‚ we set them up for failure. And black people set black coaches up for failure‚” he said.

“And I will speak about it one day. Because after my first match‚ I had a senior player at Pirates … ‘Micho’ [Sredojevic] had left on Friday‚ we played Highlands on Saturday‚ on Sunday we had regeneration‚ on Monday we had training at Rand Stadium.

“A senior player came to me and said that someone phoned him from within the organisation – not a senior person‚ but someone within the club – and said‚ ‘Are you happy with the coach? Are you happy the coach has been given the job as head coach?’.

“I had not even done one training session as a head coach‚ and already people were planting doubts into the players about my capacity to lead the team.

“It is what it is and these things make you stronger. Now you know when [Bucs’ development head] Augusto Palacios says‚ ‘Eh‚ you must walk with your back to the wall here with football’‚ now you understand what he means.”