…how Jingles rose from assistant’s assistant to the top
When Pitso Mosimane shared his ambitions as a coach with Gerald Modabi, he did so while he was stark naked.
The year was 2000, and at the dawn of the new millennium, many people had big dreams.
As some prophets of global doom had predicted, the world had not ended, and as everyone took their first tentative steps into a new century, many had plans about where their lives were headed.
Mosimane was one of these big dreamers, and so big were his plans that he could not wait until he was dressed to share them. To Modabi’s discomfort, the young gaffer had chosen him to share his plans on that fateful July at Pretoria Technikon.
While he was in his birthday suit in the showers at the college, ‘Jingles’ spoke prophetically about his future. Although he was still a lowly second assistant coach SuperSport United at the time, he would rise, he said, and his name would be spoken of fondly throughout the land.
“When he told me about his coaching dreams – it was just him and me in the shower at the Pretoria Technikon,” Modabi tells FARPost.
“The man was naked, Mthokozisi; the only thing I could see while he was talking was this guy with a big bum talking rubbish. To me, it was rubbish.”
“It was in July 2000 in the pre-season. He said, ‘Mjomana, look at me, mark this day, I’ll be coaching Bafana Bafana in the World Cup’. I said to myself, ‘uyahlanya lo [he’s lost his mind], he’s the second assistant coach at SuperSport, more or less like a ball boy”.
Never mind that Modabi was conversing with a well-travelled man who had gathered some football knowledge as a player at Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns, Jomo Cosmos, in Greece, Belgium and Qatar.
Modabi still saw no substance in the utterances by the guy next to him. But no doubt, Mosimane had big ambitions. It did not matter to him that he was 36 years old and the assistant of an assistant at a team founded six years before and was under Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar.
Four years earlier, Mosimane had hung his boots as a player, his last dance being with Qatari side Al Sadd. He saw his name in the bright lights one day, and he was keen to work towards that dream. Modabi, one of the first two players Mosimane ever coached, saw this ambition burn brightly on the sidelines of the pitch before every official match.
It was behind the goalposts, not in a fancy, spacious dressing room, where Pitso Mosimane the coach was born. “At SuperSport, he was more or less a ball boy. The only real coaching opportunity he had at the time was coaching Cavann Sibeko and me behind the goalposts before an official league match. Do you know how embarrassing that was for Cavann and me? Everybody has come to watch a professional game against Sundowns at Caledonian Stadium, and Pitso makes us train at 1 PM on a very small patched up pitch outside the main stadium,” adds Modabi.
As other players prepared for the real heat of battle, the budding mentor would take Modabi and Sibeko through the paces behind the main arena where the actual action would be due to take place. For the players, it was the ultimate humiliation. But for the Kagiso-born mentor, that little square patch and these two young players gave him a chance to begin the long journey towards coaching superstardom.
“Everyone coming into the stadium was seeing Pitso with these two boys. Man, he was serious. We’re angry that he’s training the two for us. I didn’t know I’d be doing the same thing as a coach,” Modabi says.
“He trained the two of us to demonstrate how players should be trained. He didn’t believe Bruce Grobbelaar was a good coach. He always told Thomas Madigage in a local language that, ‘this chap is doing nothing.’ He was angry that he was not being given a chance to show what he was capable of doing.”
Those pre-kickoff sessions were a humbling learning curve for both player and coach. For Modabi, it was even more so because his relationship with Mosimane had not started on the right footing. Two years before that shower confession, Modabi had got a taste of Jingles’ trademark brash attitude and “arrogance”.
“We met in 1998 briefly; he had just returned from Qatar. This was at Sundowns youth development, and I played for the Transnet Youth Development under Paradise Moeketsi,” recalls Modabi.
“They had grown up together in Esinawani, which is a street across Chiawelo where I stayed. He came across as arrogant, and I didn’t like the person he was. I thought he was an asshole.”
Despite that he did not immediately like the young coach, it was Mosimane who would hand Modabi his first big break. “A year later, he came to Bekezela College to have a look at Seuntjie Motlhajwa, and I happened to be there as well,” Modabi reveals.
“By chance, Paradise came to pick Seuntjie Motlhajwa, and I had just recovered from a gunshot wound and a failed trip to Coventry in England. It was cold, so I decided to come back to South Africa. Thomas Madigage was present as well. “They were a player short, and they asked Paradise if I could fill in. I played as a striker. After 10 minutes, I was substituted. Guess who substitutes me? Pitso.
“I’m asking myself, ‘why does this man hate me so much? Last year I met him, and he was arrogant towards me, and now he takes me out after only 10 minutes. Little did I know that he had seen enough of me to convince SuperSport to take me.
“It took me 10 minutes to join SuperSport. Pitso was in charge of the Barney Molokwane academy. Six months later, he came to SuperSport, where our relationship started.”
According to Sibeko, even in those early years of Mosimane’s coaching career, he was convinced that the Al Ahly coach was destined for more incredible things. All Mosimane’s achievements have come as no surprise to Sibeko as he foretold them.
Just like he prophesied, the 57-year-old went on to coach Bafana Bafana at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, albeit on an assistant coach role, before he was handed the head coach job soon after. He also guided Sundowns to their first-ever Caf Champions League title in 2016 and then won the Caf Super Cup the following year.
Now, just a little over a year after landing a coaching job at Al Ahly – becoming the first-ever South African tactician to work in North Africa – he has led them to two Champions League titles. “The same Pitso you see now is the same man he was back then. He was dedicated and extremely hard-working back then,” says Sibeko.
“He told us that he would coach Bafana Bafana and that he would win the Caf Champions League and would dominate in Africa. I’m not surprised by what he has achieved because he once told us. If you ask anyone who played for SuperSport under Pitso. He predicted all these things that have happened.”
That confidence and overwhelming belief in his ability have never left the five-time South African PSL winner. Neither has his meticulous attention to detail, the willingness to stay up deep into the night, analysing his players and opponents’ strength and weakness.
It is that same dedication to analysing even the tiniest of details that Sibeko attributes his former boss’s instant success at Africa’s Club of the Century. “In Soweto, Pitso would be at training every day. He did everything – from planning training sessions and teaching us football. You could see he knew what he was talking about,” Sibeko says.
According to Paradise Moeketsi, that burning desire to become the best did not start when his childhood friend began sitting in the dugout. Moeketsi says that even as a player, he was prepared to go the extra mile, to do the things others were not ready to do.
“I first met him years back, before he played for Cosmos, and he was 16 then. We were playing some challenge matches, and each time we played against each other, we’d identify strong players in the opposition,” Moeketsi says.
“We’d identify talent in Soweto. We grew up together. Pitso was from Krugersdorp, where he stayed with his family, so we recruited him to Rockville Hungry Lions to be part of our team, and then we became friends. The journey was a bit hard, but he has worked for his success. “He always wanted to become the best. He would save money to buy balls. I remember at one time he bought us 10 soccer balls. “He would be at training early to be ahead of everyone. He wanted more. Throughout his life, Pitso has made defying the odds a habit.”
Over the years, he has acquired a reputation of a man who defies the odds. He is the man who turned around Sundowns’ fortunes, transforming them from a free-spending but erratic side into a well-oiled machine with a bulging trophy cabinet.
Apart from a continental glory, a clean sweep of five Premier Soccer League titles, two Nedbank Cups, as many Telkom Knockouts highlight his Downs tenure since December 2012. The root of all this was humble beginnings.
“He was one of the shortest players, but he was one of the best headers of the ball,” remembers Moeketsi.“When he started, most of his goals came from headers. After he returned from Greece and we were developing youngsters in Soweto with Sam Mbatha, he talked a lot about coaching – analysing games and getting involved. He used to bring us soccer boots when he was in Europe for the ‘Morning Show’. That’s where he developed an interest in coaching.”
Moeketsi says he sometimes jokingly tells Mosimane that, as the man who gave him his first big break, he “made him.” It is a statement made in jest and a testament to the cordial relationship the two men share.
Over the years, Mosimane has built a lot of these kinds of relationships not only with other coaches but players as well. This is mainly because he keeps close watch of their lives on and off the pitch. He is the father figure who makes sure that his players make the right decisions when nobody is there to monitor their every move.
“The man looked for me the whole of Soweto to take the car to the garage,” Modabi recalls of one time when he purchased a ride that his coach thought was too fancy for his age.
“He wanted me to return that car to the dealer because he felt I was too young to own that kind of car. I kept dodging him all day until he went and parked his car far from my house and walked back to wait for me.
“When I thought he had gone, I drove home and just as I got out of the car, Pitso showed up. I took the Golf 3 GTI; I was 19 at the time. I was playing for SuperSport, and I was starting to play a lot more often, learning to drink alcohol; I was rubbing shoulders with John Moeti, he was my roommate in camp, he played for Bafana Bafana, and so I felt I was now big.
“I knew I was guaranteed a start or coming on as a sub. But he didn’t like that. He made sure we pushed trolleys for older players; he wanted us to be early at training or the airport.”
In the Al Ahly dressing room, he has had to handle a few egos. The reigning African champions have a few superstars in their ranks.
While it is evident that his job is not an easy one, his dedication to the welfare of his charges stands him in good stead.
“He’s a driven, ambitious guy who will not take no for an answer,” says Modabi.
“He installed a landline at my house with his own money, and he would call me at 11 PM to check if I was at home. He wanted to make sure he found me at home. He would warn me, ‘this will end very badly.’
“When he took over (as head coach), I was the first player he released to Silver Stars on loan. He said, ‘you’re a big talent whom I think deserves to be playing regularly’. I couldn’t understand that decision. I gave Owen (da Gama) big problems.
From one who understands Mosimane very well, Modabi does not doubt that the coach is still to scale dizzy heights.