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How Mamelodi Sundowns accidentally spotted Gaston Sirino

Pitso Mosimane wasn’t supposed to be watching Gaston Sirino on that fateful afternoon in November 2017. For a while, Mosimane had hinted he was in the market for a tall striker.

The Kagiso-born coach was almost convinced he had found the right man in Gilbert Álvarez Vargas, a lanky forward who turned out for Jorge Wilstermann – a club named after the first Bolivian commercial pilot.

Vargas was a highly rated, 1.83m tall forward whose stock started rising in his days as a teenager when he played as a lone striker in the 2009 South American Under 17 Football Championship. He scored three goals in the tournament.

And so, Mosimane set out to Cochabamba, central Bolivia, where Club Deportivo Jorge Wilstermann were locking horns with Bolívar La Paz – Sirino’s club at the time – on 5 November 2017.

It was as if Mosimane was preparing for the departure of two of his frontmen – Percy Tau and Khama Billiat – who would both leave about seven months after his Bolivia trip.

The ‘Lion of Judah’, as Tau had been christened, later headed out to Belgium on loan from English side Brighton while Billiat jumped ship to join Kaizer Chiefs.

Add to that, Leonardo Castro was also on the way out. This signalled the end of the eminent ‘CBD’ combination that terrorised defences both on the domestic scene and in the continent in 2016.

Keegan Dolly had already joined French Ligue 1 side Montpellier in January of that year.

But life at Chloorkop had to go on. In South America was a man who supposedly could blow a fresh breath of life into the Downs juggernaut.

Pitso Mosimane and Gaston Sirino during a Mamelodi Sundowns days

Sundowns’ Unplanned Haul in Sirino

On Nov 9, 2017, a local publication wrote: “A picture of Mosimane alongside a Club Jorge Wilstermann’s head coach, Roberto Mosquera, is currently doing the rounds in Bolivia. As reported over recent months, Sundowns are looking to add two more strikers to their books in the near future. Mosimane was looking for the missing puzzle pieces of his attacking department.” 

But as fate would have it, Vargas, who had previously played his club football in Brazil and Belgium, struggled for form around November 2017 and had not scored a goal in four games.

In fact, a video of that particular game shows the then 25-year-old striker only touched the ball 11 times. Seven touches in the first half and a mere four times summed up a man who was far from impressive.

Mosquera, a Peruvian manager, was on his way out of the club then. Perhaps his most trusted striker was slightly unsettled because of the team’s instability.

On the other hand, the man who would strike twice for Bolívar La Paz was none other than Sirino.

Understandably, the Downs’ scouting team couldn’t take their eyes off the slender, skilful forward who scored two goals in the opening 10 minutes of the game. His first goal came in the seventh and the second two minutes later.

During the next three weeks, Sirino was in unrelenting form, banging in four goals in three matches as if he knew a South African team was following him with a hawk’s eye.

“We went to a television station where we bought 12 videos of matches. The league has 14 teams. So watching all those videos meant we covered the entire league. We wanted to watch more of him,” says Walter Steenbok, author of The Football Scouting Bible.  

Steenbok explained to FARPost the scouting process as detailed in his 224-page book.

“We went there to provide a second opinion. In the book, I talk about the stages and steps of scouting. The coach was going to see the player and Esrom [Nyandoro]. And I had to go and provide a second opinion,” Steenbok adds.

Gaston Sirino happy at Mamelodi Sundowns
Gaston Sirino


After watching several other games and scanning through the videos, there was no way Sirino would remain in Bolivia.

In any case, he was already 2000 kilometres from Salto, his rural town located on the Argentinian border. Salton, with a population of 100 000 people, is home to Uruguay’s top strikers, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

Unlike his dad, who turned down opportunities to go and play the game elsewhere, the 32-year-old star moved to Montevideo to join the youth side of Penarol, one of the league’s big two. But he was considered too small to make the senior squad.

Undeterred, he tried his luck at Rampla Juniors and was later snapped up by Union San Felipe in Chile, where he shone like a beacon before taking the Bolivian Liga de Fútbo by storm.

On that Bolivia excursion, the Downs scouts saw a quick, dribbling wizard and immediately forgot about the tall striker.

Interestingly, Sirino knew nothing about South Africa then. But he was ready for a new challenge.

“I was looking for a new challenge after winning the league with Bolivar,” he said after finally completing his move in January 2018.

“I had heard there was interest in me from a club in South Africa. In South America, we hear very little about South African football. So, I had to look into the club and its history.

“I called my agent and asked him what he thought of the club. He told me about the CAF Champions League victory and the success the club enjoyed. That was enough for me to take up the challenge. And explore this opportunity under Coach Pitso, who made me feel welcomed. He made it easy for me to adjust to the league and my teammates.”

And those who have followed the relationship closely know how much he became Mosimane’s most trusted lieutenant.

Mosimane even attempted to sign Sirino when he was head coach of Al Ahly and during his stay at Al Wahda in the UAE.

To date, Sirino has won nine trophies since arriving at the club, including six league titles. He has scored 38 goals and registered 43 assists in 192 games across all competitions.

He helped Sundowns win the inaugural African Football League [AFL] title. And the attacker will be eager to play a part as the club look to clinch their second Champions League star.

RELATED STORY: Rulani Mokwena comments on Sirino’s work ethic after smoking peace pipe

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