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Jomo's defiance accelerated Cosmos' sad demise

Sono shifted focus from his original brief of unearthing raw gems

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Jomo Cosmos owner and coach Jomo Sono during a Nedbank Cup last-32 match against Black Leopards at Olen Park Stadium in Potchefstroom in February 2021.
Jomo Cosmos owner and coach Jomo Sono during a Nedbank Cup last-32 match against Black Leopards at Olen Park Stadium in Potchefstroom in February 2021.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackPagePix/Gallo Images

The demise of Jomo Cosmos from SA football’s professional ranks shouldn’t come as a surprise as it is has been a long time in the making.

But it should also be seen in the context of a local game which has deteriorated to the extent that Cosmos are actually victims of this perpetual decline.

Make no mistake: the signs that one day Cosmos would drop to the amateur leagues have long been there, from the time they were first relegated from the modernised Premiership in 2007/08.

At the time, they had a decent squad which was able to immediately bounce back from the doldrums of the national first division, winning outright promotion in 2008/09. But the lessons were seemingly not learnt and Cosmos became a yo-yo team, suffering three more relegations until they were unable to return to the Premiership after 2015/16.

Since finishing third four seasons ago, they have not come any close to contesting for the top spot in the NFD, and their position in the last two seasons before this year’s humiliation was a lowly 13th.

Jomo Sono’s team were not so fortunate this time despite his assurance in the last few weeks as his team’s struggles drew national attention. Sono should be the first to admit his major role in fast-tracking the demise of a club he founded in 1983.

It took them just four years to win the league title, their only one, in 1987. Cosmos were known for unearthing real talent, with Sono personally credited for launching many careers. Even after their very first relegation from the national soccer league in 1993, they were able to bounce back immediately despite Sono having sold almost all his most exceptional players to Orlando Pirates.

Those players included Mark Fish, Innocent Mncwango and Helman Mkhalele who all went to help Pirates annex continental glory in 1995. Indeed some of the players groomed by Sono, such as Phil Masinga and Sizwe Motaung, formed the bulk of Bafana Bafana’s 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning team.

As a man with a hawk’s eye when it comes to raw football talent, Sono had no equal in the local game. A friend once related how he was caught by surprise having finished playing a local amateur match in Rustenburg, only to be called aside by Sono himself. “You’re good, you just need to work on your strength and upper body,” Sono – who had been watching from his car without being detected – told the then teenager.  

But in the last decade to 15 years which coincided with Cosmos’ rapid decline, it seemed as though Sono – despite his stern defiance – had lost the very spark which over the years kept the Cosmos light burning. Not only was he unable to now get capable players from the amateur ranks, even imports in the same level as Benjani Mwaruwaru, Manuel Bucuane, Chris Katongo and Anthony Laffor dried up.

Compounding Cosmos’ problem further was that Sono’s business interests extended beyond football. He was making headlines alongside infamous tenderpreneurs, leaving you wondering if he really still had passion for the game. As Cosmos’ slide continued, there were mocking calls for Sono to consider “firing the coach”, but he remained steadfast, much to the detriment of his proud legacy.

Sono, though, will admit what we have now all come to realise: SA football's talent pool has shrunk to pitiable levels. This explains why a team like Cosmos, who used to churn out gem after gem even after selling their best, had to resort to fielding players rejected elsewhere in their survival bid. It was an unsustainable business model for a side who used to discover players of international standard with commendable regularity.

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