Ndumiso Mhlongo remembers when Manqoba Mngqithi used to make his players train even when it was thundering.
Mngqithi was the head coach at Moja United, a side in the Vodacom League he took charge of after leaving Maritzburg City. At City, Mngqithi had been the second in command, appointed at the recommendation of Thabo Dladla.
But at Moja, he was now the man in charge and, perhaps because he was still a school teacher, he was determined to run a tight ship. A schoolteacher’s dedication to discipline and hard work was strictly enforced and on rare occasions, his charges would find themselves on the pitch while lightning and thunder wrought havoc on the sky above. To get to the level that he wanted to be in, Mngqithi would do just about anything.
“They would train even if it was thundering. You’re mistaken if you think he’s soft on players, he’s a very stubborn man when he believes in something,” Mhlongo tells FARPost.
His former AmaZulu captain Tapuwa Kapini concurs with Mhlongo on Mngqithi’s mistaken disposition. “He’s not soft at all, he’s just kind and will give everyone a listening ear,” says Kapini, who recently joined GladAfrica Championship side, Sekhukhune United.
What baffles Mhlongo though is exactly how Mngqithi balanced his teaching duties at school (first at Jabula Combined School and then at Injoloba High School in Howick, KwaZulu Natal) and his coaching responsibilities on the field of play.
But all he knows is that it all worked out -perfectly. He excelled at both with such ease, thanks to his discipline. “He was a teacher, but he had so much love for coaching. He balanced it quite well, I don’t know how he did it,” says Mhlongo.
In another life, Mngqithi would have been wearing a suit and tie, standing in front of a chalkboard. But here he was, trying to outdo the raucous thunder as he barked instructions from the touch line.
On the pitch, the fruits of his labour were there for all to see. In his maiden season at Moja, he took them from the Vodacom League to the first division. Mhlongo recalls how, even as a rookie coach, the man popularly known as ‘TV’ was convinced of his own greatness.
“That man does what his second name BRILLIANT says, he trusts himself. His confidence is on another level. He once told me he would coach one of the country’s big teams. We were still in the Vodacom League( now ABC Motsepe League) at the time. The things he said he would do in his career have all come to pass,” Mhlongo says.
From the first whistle in his first match as head coach, Mngqithi was convinced he could pull off the impossible. “Durban Bush Bucks were leading us 2-0 at half time in his first game back in 2001. As he walked towards the players at half time, he approached me and asked if I thought we were going to win this game. I said ‘no’. He then said, ‘I’ve won this game’. Indeed, we won it 4-2,” says Mhlongo.
As a qualified teacher, Mngqithi was trained to impart knowledge, to feed young minds thirsty for knowledge with facts and nuggets of wisdom. However, Dladla, who brought the young coach to City, says his greatest gift was an ability to absorb knowledge and a willingness to learn.
“I was involved with Maritzburg City and I invited him there. I thought that would be a great platform for him to learn from.
“It was his passion for the work he was doing that I loved. He had an attitude of wanting to learn, he was also a very open-minded man. That’s why I thought the City opportunity would help him, he was eager to learn,” Dladla tells FARPost.
Dladla had met Mngqithi earlier when he was coaching a selected provincial team. In those early stages of their relationship, he says he knew that here was a man that was destined for success. While he was already quite well known in the lower leagues and around the greater part of KZN, most South African football fans encountered the name Manqoba Mngqithi when he took over the reigns at Golden Arrows.
Mngqithi was only 36 when he joined the Lamontville side. As one of the fresh faces in the local league, Mngqithi was a beacon of hope for young black coaches who desired top jobs in the topflight.
“He left teaching when he moved to Durban to work at Golden Arrows,” recalls Mandla Ncikazi, Mngqithi’s former assistant at Arrows. Ncikazi and the 49-year-old coach met circa 2003 while they were doing a Level One coaching course in Pietermaritzburg. Their blazing passion for nurturing young talent would flourish at Arrows.
“We wanted young players from the province to go as far as playing international football. We wanted them to make a living out of football and take care of their families. There’s a notion that South African players are not good enough to leave the country and go to England. But one of our players, Kagisho Dikgacoi went straight from Arrows to England.”
The former Bafana Bafana midfield enforcer, Dikgacoi, joined Fulham in 2009 before stints with Crystal Palace and Cardiff City in England.
While having a young coach in the dugout in the PSL was encouraging, what was even more refreshing was the style of play Mngqithi’s charges played. Few matches in the modern PSL are as memorable as a slick passing Arrows 6 nil demolition of Ajax Cape Town during the 2009 MTN8 final.
“There was a moment when we were leading 2-0 and there was a storm. Manqoba hardly smiled. When we scored the sixth goal I saw him smile.
“For the first time, I saw him smile after a goal, enjoying the moment when Njabulo Manqana scored the last goal. Arrows played a beautiful brand of football on that day.
“There’s no final that was ever won with that kind of scoreline in South Africa. If I remember well, the owner of the club (Rocky Madlala who was managing director) had just passed on (the previous year) and it was like he was with us in the ground. The players wanted to play that match in his memory. We told the players to celebrate his life by winning the game,” recalls Ncikazi.
As he takes over at Sundowns, Mngqithi – father to prominent actress Asavela Mngqithi of local soapie Isibaya – knows that the spotlight is now on him. He is no longer part of the supporting cast but the main act. He is now the star of the show.
Without a doubt, Pitso Mosimane is by all means a tough act to follow but Mngqithi now has to step up and prove that the faith the tzars at Chloorkop have shown in him is not misplaced.
By his own admission, many people have been probing him to leave the shadow of Mosimane and take charge of one of the PSL sides. For a good seven years, he has sat next to ‘Jingles’ helping him plot the downfall of opponents week after week.
And since joining the Brazilians, he has never known how it feels to finish outside the top two. All he has experienced is an onslaught for the coveted League title each season.
“I was absolutely honoured when he approached me to assist him because Sundowns is the kind of club I wanted to join where we fight for trophies. Remember when I joined them, they had not started winning titles under Pitso but I could see the direction and vision of the club,” Mngqithi told FARPost recently.
And now, together with co-coach Rulani Mokwena, they are the two men Patrice Motsepe, the Sundowns president, has tasked to take the 10-time PSL champions further than Mosimane ushered them.
For Dladla, who saw Mngqithi’s rise from a district team coach to the man of South African soccer serial champions, Mngqithi has already proved his mettle.
“I knew he’d make it. He comes from a rural area and his success says to young Eastern Cape boys, it’s possible to go all the way and coach a big club like Sundowns.
(For clarity, uMzimkhulu area where Mngqithi comes from previously fell under the Eastern Cape province until March 2006 when it was incorporated into KwaZulu-Natal).
“If he could win a cup with a small club like Arrows, I think he will be a success at Sundowns,” Dladla adds.
It remains to be seen whether Mngqithi will replicate the kind of results his former boss Mosimane produced at the helm of Sundowns.
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By Mthokozisi Dube