Relentless pressure showed up Mokwena’s inexperience

RULANI Mokwena is in his first full season as Mamelodi Sundowns head coach. | BackpagePix

RULANI Mokwena is in his first full season as Mamelodi Sundowns head coach. | BackpagePix

Published May 12, 2024


THE outcome of Mamelodi Sundowns’ midweek match against Lamontville Golden Arrows might be the cue for the Chloorkop’s club to take a hard look at why the team did not reap its just rewards.

The match ended in a goalless draw, even though Mamelodi Sundowns enjoyed a profound possession advantage throughout the match. It did not matter that Sundowns played the entire second half with 10 players after defender Mosa Lebusa received a straight red card in the first minute of the second stanza.

Such is the strength of this Sundowns’ team that they maintained a vice-like grip on the match, whether playing with a full complement or not. However, it must be cause for concern that Sundowns could not defeat Arrows, who have one of the poorest defences in the 16-team league. They have conceded 41 goals in 27 matches.

This mark is bettered only by the relegation-doomed Cape Town Spurs, who have leaked 42 goals after 27 matches.

After the match, Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena was at a loss to explain the outcome.

He said: “I don’t understand how we got into half-time at 0-0 after we had so many chances. I was counting at one point, but I stopped. I think it should have been 5-0 – only one team was playing.”

A graphic illustrating the flow of the match showed that the game was played almost entirely in Arrows half, from start to finish.

If the Sundowns hierarchy can unravel this mystery, they might discover why this immensely talented team did not reach the CAF Champions League final a few weeks ago.

Such is the calibre of this team that last November they were crowned the first-ever African Football League (AFL) champions, after a 2-0 second-leg victory over Wydad Casablanca sealed a 3-2 aggregate triumph.

It was a terrific achievement against a side that has played in six Champions League finals.

In April, Sundowns bowed out of the Champions League after suffering back-to-back 1-0 defeats to Tunisia’s Espérance Sportive. By that time, Sundowns were showing distinct signs of buckling under the pressure of playing matches every four or five days.

Mokwena felt he had the players to reach the final at least and that is why he was shattered by the semi-final defeat.

Three weeks later, he declared: “Nothing can numb the pain of the Champions League failure, not even finishing the league campaign invincible.

“I’m still reeling, and I’m talking personally. Someone tried to console me and said you have a double already with the AFL and the league, so why are you still reeling?

“But I’m reeling because I feel like I’ve let the club down, let the supporters down and this group down because it’s my job to lead.”

In the past few weeks, Mokwena has shared his thoughts on feeling unappreciated and said the pressure on the team is underplayed.

Mokwena is just over a year into his tenure as the sole head coach of the team. Never before did he experience a time when he was in charge of a team that was competing on several fronts at the same time.

He was required to do a balancing act with his squad to ensure the team remained on course to challenge for all the silverware on offer. It would have been a unique experience for him.

In the wake of the Champions League failure, it could be argued that he was not fully prepared for the arduous challenge.

All summed up, it seems Sundowns paid the price for Mokwena’s inexperience to keep the team on winning ways when dealing with relentless pressure on so many fronts – both domestic and continental.