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A fair fight? Three versus one on the benches for Sundowns versus Chiefs

Mamelodi Sundowns coaches Steve Komphela, Rulani Mokwena and Manqoba Mnqgithi during their MTN8 quarterfinal against Bloemfontein Celtic at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria on October 18, 2020.
Mamelodi Sundowns coaches Steve Komphela, Rulani Mokwena and Manqoba Mnqgithi during their MTN8 quarterfinal against Bloemfontein Celtic at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria on October 18, 2020.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/ Backpagepix/ Gallo Images

It doesn’t seem a fair fight. Not only do big-spending Mamelodi Sundowns have more player power, they also have three head coaches to one on the bench when they meet Kaizer Chiefs in Saturday’s DStv Premiership-opener at FNB Stadium.

Of course, that’s a tongue in cheek assessment because everyone knows it is not the number of coaches on a bench that makes for a good coaching staff.

And it would take quite a few coaches put together to match four-time league winner Gavin Hunt’s trophy pedigree possessed on his own, as he embarks on his first season seeking more such success at Chiefs.

In fact, as head coaches, Sundowns’ new holy trinity who have replaced Pitso Mosimane – Manqoba Mngqithi, Steve Komphela and Rulani Mokwena – have just one trophy between them. Mngqithi, though, who won that cup with a famous 6-0 thrashing by Lamontville Golden Arrows of Ajax Cape Town in the 2009 MTN8 final, also wracked up plenty of trophies as assistant to Mosimane at Downs – 11 in eight years.

SowetanLIVE sister publication TimesLIVE digs deeper in to the relative qualities possessed by the two sets of benches in Saturday’s 2020-21 league opener:

• Gavin Hunt – Kaizer Chiefs

Hunt’s trophy record speaks for itself and, of course, given Chiefs have notoriously not won one in five seasons, that was the reason he was hired last month.

He started with the Absa Cup at Moroka Swallows in 2004, and then won the PSL three times in succession at SuperSport United from 2008 to 2010, where he also won the 2012 Nedbank Cup. At Bidvest Wits Hunt won the 2016 MTN8, 2016-17 PSL and 2017 Telkom Knockout to make it eight career top-flight trophies.

Pragmatic, no-frills and no-nonsense, disciplinarian Hunt builds tough teams on lines of rigid organisation. He puts results first, though his reputation for unattractive football is also unfair, because SuperSport and Wits could certainly be fast and exciting under him.

Hunt will not have too much to do beating Chiefs into shape, as predecessor Ernst Middendorp steered a relatively limited squad to an improbable second place in 2019-20.

Chiefs also have their own trio brainstrust, though Hunt’s young assistants Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard seem more prospects to groom than Sundowns’ more experienced threesome.

Hunt seems certain to win trophies at a team with Chiefs’ facilities with tried and tested methods that have brought silverware before, even with squad challenges and a two-window transfer ban from Fifa. He is used to challenging the big three with relatively limited resources.

• Manqoba Mngqithi, Steve Komphela and Rulani Mokwena – Mamelodi Sundowns

The three have a wealth of experience between them, especially Mngqithi and Komphela.

Mngqithi has been the quiet, hardly recognised, knowledgeable presence behind Mosimane’s unprecedented success at Downs for the past eight years. Mosimane’s departure to Al Ahly this month opened the way for a well-deserved more senior role – if perhaps a little reluctantly from the unassuming Mngqithi – at Downs.

The former AmaZulu and Arrows coach added to his 2009 MTN8 win with five league titles working with Mosimane at the Brazilians, and the 2016 Caf Champions League trophy. They also won the 2015 and 2020 Nedbank Cups, 2015 and 2019 Telkom Knockouts, and the 2016 Caf Super Cup, for 11 trophies added to Downs’ cupboard in all.

Komphela, arriving from Arrows, is the new man to Downs in the triumvirate. He has been unfortunate to not win a trophy but always achieved strong results and brought through numerous talents at the clubs of his playing career, Free State Stars and Chiefs; Maritzburg United, Arrows, and Manning Rangers. He was involved in national team structures as Under-23 coach, and a Bafana Bafana assistant and caretaker-coach.

Mokwena is the youngest in the trio by far in age (33) and experience, the coaching prodigy having served as assistant to Mosimane at Sundowns, then Milutin Serdojevic at Orlando Pirates, then Bucs’ caretaker last season, and a game “on loan” as a head coach at Chippa United. At times fiery, but also young and technological and with immense talent, Mokwena will relish making an input to the senior structure at the Brazillians.

All three are well aware of the best traditions of Sundowns of beautiful, technical, skills-based, winning football that brings trophies. All three had a close relationship with Mosimane, and will aim for continuity in carpet, passing football tactics, enabled by a tough midfield and organised defence.

The big question with the three – and it’s been endlessly interrogated on social media and the radio and TV chat shows – of course is: does too many cooks spoil the broth?

Mngqithi, Komphela and Mokwena seem intent on not letting it, and harnessing the sparks that seem certain to fly from their vastly differing personalities into a harmonious, purring, powerful engiune with the awesome player power they have at their disposal. It will be fascinating to see how the experiment pans out.

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