The one law that does not change is that everything changes, and the hardship Cavin Johnson was bearing at the start of 2020 was only a breath away from the turn of fortunes he would have in far-flung Cairo, Egypt a few months later.
In February last year, just days after being unceremoniously axed by Black Leopards, Johnson found himself in a hospital ward with a suspected heart condition. Of course, it was a fleeting ‘scare’ that he later played down.
Exactly a month later, jobless as he was, football activities were put on hold due to the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic. It simply meant there would be no job for him at least until the return of football.
But as philosophers say, ‘rise above the storm and you’ll find sunshine’, on the other side of the storm was sunshine in distant Cairo. Too much sunshine actually.
“I’ve always wanted to work on the continent to test my credentials and nobody was coming because everyone was holding onto their coaches,” he tells FARPost.
And so when that phone call came through, the father of South Africa’s hockey international Robin Johnson did not think twice. Even the thought of leaving his wife and three children behind was never an issue.
“Pitso (Mosimane) was looking for an assistant and so he asked me if I wanted to join him. I told him ‘you don’t need to ask me, just tell me and I’ll be there’. We were always opponents [in South Africa] but we’ve always been colleagues [in the game]. I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s a massive club with very good players,” he says.
The veteran coach had been out of a job for almost eight months when that phone call came through, after his brief stint with Leopards.
Johnson, who has previously been at the helm of clubs including Platinum Stars, AmaZulu and SuperSport United, knows deep down in his heart that his career will never be the same again after the stint with the eight-time African champions.
Whether Mosimane chooses to move with him the next time he moves, which is likely, or not, the man will never be the same again.
Even when he talks about his stint with Africa’s biggest club, his voice and tone conveys the emphasis that he is grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s been an interesting ride for all of us, eye-opening. It’s been a good ride being led by Pitso Mosimane,” he tells FARPost.
The Johannesburg-born coach is relishing standing on the broad shoulders of Mosimane whose first Caf Champions League title triumph was with Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016.
“For the last eight years, Pitso Mosimane has been playing in Africa. He deserves more respect. He’s been there for a while. The Caf Champions League is one of the most difficult competitions in the world. I’m grateful to be with him now…”
Without question, Johnson’s most memorable football moments have come from the Cairo stint. Lifting the Caf Champions League and playing at the Fifa Club World Cup stood out for him.
“You don’t normally play the champions of South America,” he says referring to Brazil’s Palmeiras who they beat to clinch third place at the Fifa Club World Cup.
Having worked with the Mohamed El-Shenawys of this world, he feels players from countries that shape the top North of the African continent are hungry for football success. He also attributes their progress to extreme professionalism and focus.
“With all due respect, I feel our players aren’t hungry enough,” he says. “We need to improve on physical conditioning and social background. We need to up our game because we compete against others in Africa. We have the best run league on the continent but we can improve.”
Going to DR Congo recently, Ahly risked missing out on a quarter-final berth if they lost or drew against AS Vita. This was after a 2-2 draw against the Congolese in Cairo and a 0-1 loss at the hands of Simba in Tanzania.
“The previous game where we drew 2-2 the score should have been 6-0 in the first half. If you had VAR, the penalty they got wasn’t a penalty. We were really good, the score doesn’t tell you what happened. So, we knew how we would beat them,” he says.
Having set the bar so high after a treble last season, Mosimane and his technical team know every game is like a cup final.
“It’s always a cup final,” he says. In fact, his advice to local players turning out for big clubs is that they must treat every game like a final.
“South African players need to learn that every game is a cup final, you never have a day off.”
And if you thought unfamiliar foods like ta’meya and ful mudammas, a staple of the Egyptian diet, Koshari and Mahshi would bother the South Africans at The Club of The Century, forget!
“It’s normal food, real quality. We’ve not had to adjust at all,” says Johnson.
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By Mthokozisi Dube