Ricardo Katza remembers the first time he had lunch with Pitso Mosimane.
The year was 2003 and Katza was on the verge of making a big move from Hellenic to SuperSport United, coached by Mosimane at the time.
Understandably, Katza expected the lunch with his new gaffer to be dominated by all things football.
To his surprise, it was not. While they munched on fine morsels of food at a Centurion restaurant, all talk of football was swept off the table.
“Before I signed for Supersport he invited me over for lunch and he insisted that I bring my girlfriend. He never even spoke about football, he just wanted to get to know me. He was interested in the person more than the game,” Katza says.
Katza went on to have a sparking decade-long career at SuperSport, but that meeting with Mosimane gave the now retired footballer a few valuable lessons about man management.
“He taught me you take care of the person first before the tactics and the person will bring the tactics.
“He wants to know you have a house before you get a car, he wants to know if you’re studying,” he says.
The compassion and desire to have a deeper understanding of the players at his disposal was a feature of Mosimane’s highly regarded stint at the helm of Matsantsantsa. Katza remembers him particularly for his response to an SOS he sent to him in the wee hours of the morning.
“He’s a family man, so he understands when you say a baby is sick.
“I sent him a message at 3AM and told him my wife is due so I won’t be coming to training and he said I can take as much time as I want,” he adds.
17 years after that lunch with Katza, Mosimane stands at the pinnacle of South African football.
Since joining Mamelodi Sundowns in December 2012, Mosimane has overseen an impressive redecoration of the cash flush Tshwane giants’ trophy cabinet. He has led Sundowns to four Absa Premiership league titles‚ the Caf Champions League‚ Caf Super Cup‚ the Telkom Knockout and the Nedbank Cup.
When Sundowns claimed their ninth title, billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe was gushing in his praise of Mosimane.
“I have said that I want Pitso to be the Alex Ferguson of Mamelodi Sundowns and that means I want to keep him for as long as he wants to be here.”
Fergie’s 27 years in Manchester United dugout have made him one of the most revered names in world football, and for Mosimane to rival that in the PSL, he will have to maintain his high standards.
Anele Ngcongca, a player coached by Mosimane at both club and national level, believes the Sundowns gaffer is as good as any top coach in Europe.
“Pitso is a master at what he does. I am privileged to have worked with him in the national team and now at Sundowns. He’s at the level of one of my best coaches in Belgium, Franky (Vercauteren). In fact, I get the same feeling I got when I worked with Franky in Belgium. If he sees you are struggling, he won’t hesitate to call you over and encourage you,” he says.
What has stood out over the years has been Mosimane’s ability to harness talent. Prodigious but rough around the edges talents like Keagan Dolly, Bongani Zungu, Percy Tau and even Khama Billiat all became superstars under Mosimane’s watch.
“Khama will tell you about Pitso, the man moulds you to be the best. No doubt, Khama was good, but Pitso is the kind of coach, who takes a good player and turns them into a world beater,” Ngcongca says.
Former SuperSport United player Thabo September remembers how a passionate Mosimane would call, sometimes in the early hours of the morning, to tell him to watch a certain player that he needs to emulate.
“It’s the time he puts towards his art. He just breathes football, he eats football. Even the jokes are football related. He will call you at 1AM and tell you to watch a Barcelona player in your position and you’ll talk about it tomorrow. He is so passionate. I’ve never worked with any coach whose everything is just football,” he said.
Like Katza, September says it was Mosimane’s personal touch that made his players believe they could die for him on the pitch.
“Pitso wants to know everything that’s happening with his players. He has been a player and knows you will perform bad because of personal challenges. I am sure he knows everyone at Sundowns and where they stay – he will ask you about family members’ welfare. He has a tough side, but sometimes he wears the fatherly cap. He knew us all at SuperSport. We were one big family,” he recalled.
Mosimane’s stint at the helm of Bafana Bafana will be remembered for many reasons. For some it will be summed up by Bafana’s dance of shame as they celebrated what they thought was qualification for the Africa Nations Cup after playing for a draw instead of a win against Sierra Leone at Mbombela Stadium in 2011.
For others, however, it will be remembered for his explosive comments and his unwavering belief in his players that were regularly savaged by a nation still suffering a post 2010 World Cup hangover.
“As a striker you need to have a coach who believes in you, sticks with you like coach Pitso,” said Katlego “Killer” Mphela, the man who regularly formed the tip of Mosimane’s spear while he was Bafana coach.
“At Bafana, it was a continuation from Joel Santana, Carlos Alberto Pereira to Coach Pitso in the national team. He was also with all those coaches all the time. He played a huge role because he made sure that I understood the philosophy of how they wanted to play and you could see the goals I scored, they are a bit similar.”
Off the field, Mosimane seems to have a knack of picking some of the best young coaches as his backing staff. When he led Golden Arrows to their first ever piece of silverware in 2009, Manqoba Mngqithi was rightly acknowledged as one of the brightest young minds in South African football. A little over a decade later, he sits next to Mosimane and together plot the downfall of opponents week after week.
Rulani Mokwena, who’s now at Chippa United on loan from Orlando Pirates, is another prodigious coaching talent that spent time as Mosimane’s apprentice.
Mokwena believes Mosimane has what it takes to stay at the top. While for some Mosimane is an eccentric and divisive figure that is perhaps a bit too passionate about his craft, Mokwena says there is more to him than meets the eye.
“When you reach the level of success he’s attained the common demand for that success is passion you can’t get to that level without demonstrating an intensive desire to be the best and achieve excellence,” Mokwena says.
“He demonstrates day by day, it’s a consistent level that he shows throughout. There’s more to him than passion. There’s work ethic, a relentless drive to work hard than everybody else.”
In Mokwena’s words, ‘Jingles’ is astute, knowledgeable and extremely in touch with modern trends. “He does a lot of homework, he invests a lot of time into his coaching,” he says.
And one thing is clear – the man is mastering the art of dynasty-building!
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By Mthokozisi Dube