Caf Champions League: Why Mosimane is ready to take another step to greatness

Pitso Mosimane
The former Mamelodi Sundowns coach can become only the third man since 1965 to win the continent's biggest club competition with two different teams

With his insatiable thirst for winning, former Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane is on the brink of adding another massive accolade to his collection as he leads his Al Ahly side into battle in the Caf Champions League final against Zamalek on Friday evening.

Having already established himself as South Africa's most successful coach by eclipsing the four league titles won by each of Gordon Igesund and Gavin Hunt, it was not surprising to see him relishing the chance to prove himself with Egyptian giants Al Ahly.

While some may argue that Igesund and Hunt won some of their titles with lower resourced sides than big-spending Sundowns, what sets Mosimane aside, apart from his five league titles and numerous domestic cups with Downs, is that he has also conquered Africa, when he led Masandawana to the 2016 Caf Champions League title.

Now he is just 90 minutes away from adding even further to his legend, provided Al Ahly can beat their bitter Egyptian rivals Zamalek. It was of course Zamalek which Mosimane's Sundowns side beat 3-1 over two legs of the 2016 Champions League final.

Tarek Hamed of Zamalek challenged by Khama Billiant of Mamelodi Sundowns

Southern Africa status boost

There is no question that African football is dominated by countries to the west and north. The only exception being the centrally situated DR Congo, who have also enjoyed a lot of success in the Champions League.

But since the inception of the tournament 55 years ago, Mosimane remains one of only two southern African-born coaches to have won it. The other was Zambian Ronald Mkhandawire, who was briefly with Orlando Pirates and in charge when they won in 1995. For the rest, it's been almost entirely north and west African coaches, as well as a fair number from Europe and South America who have won it.

Portugal-born coach Manuel Jose holds the record with four titles, all at Al Ahly, who have won it on eight occasions (three more than the next most successful team, Zamalek.

No other coach has won the Champions League more than twice, and only two coaches - Argentina born Oscar Fullone (also a former Sundowns coach) and Egyptian Mahmoud El-Gohary, have done it with two different clubs.

South African football meanwhile, for all its comparative riches, has not had much to crow about in the past 25 years – Pirates’ Champions League win back in 1995, the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations and Sundowns' 2016 triumph were the country's only real, major African successes.

It will therefore be a significant victory for this country if Mosimane can claim another win, and plenty of South Africans will be supporting Al Ahly on Friday night.

What makes Mosimane so good?

For starters, as mentioned above, his appetite for success and burning desire to be the best.

“I eat, drink and sleep football," he once said in an interview with New Frame

“I like to win, even if it’s a friendly game. The guys know I get upset when we lose a friendly game because I don’t want bad habits. People must know that we play to win. It’s a culture. You must win! They know. I can’t stand losing. I work very hard and I want people around me to have the same mentality.”

Then there is his personality. A bit like Jose Mourinho, Mosimane can be a prickly character. There's an element of ego and arrogance to him and he's had run-ins with opposition coaches and the media in the past.

But there's also a sometimes cheeky, dry sense of humour to the man and he has probably mellowed a little with age; Mosimane is self-aware - his comments are often calculated and he knows exactly what he's doing.

A certain amount of arrogance though is often needed to succeed at the highest levels.

“I am like this because of the way I grew up,” Mosimane said in the same interview. “I was told to speak my mind. My son [Rea] is here and he always asks questions. I have told him that you must always have a ‘why?’.

"You must be inquisitive. My son is always touching and opening things to see what’s inside. I am not shy to start something. I know that it might backfire but I will start it. I play the way I want to play and everybody says we will see where he will end with this thing. As long as I can back it up, it’s okay.”

Player management

Percy Tau & Pitso Mosimane, Mamelodi Sundowns

At the same time though, there is a soft touch to him when it comes to his players, and there's no doubt that Mosimane has succeeded in one of the main fundamentals of coaching - improving individual players.

The likes of Percy Tau, Keagan Dolly, Khama Billiat, Denis Onyango, Hlompho Kekana, Themba Zwane and Gaston Sirino are just a few examples of players whose careers have flourished massively under the former Jomo Cosmos midfielder.

“Khama will tell you about Pitso, the man moulds you to be the best,” the late Anele Ngcongca, who was tragically killed in a car accident earlier this week, said previously in an interview with Far Post.

“No doubt, he (Khama) was good, but Pitso is the kind of coach, who takes a good player and turns them into a world beater.”

And it's not only on the field where Mosimane puts his work in - numerous stories have emerged of his care and thought for players’ well-being in their home environments.

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"He changed a lot of players’ lives both football-wise and social,” former Mamelodi Sundowns captain Method Mwanjali told Goal.

“He never sleeps when it comes to football, hence his achievements."

One thing is for certain, Mosimane's appetite for success won't be quenched by winning on Friday night and it's going to be fascinating to see where the 56-year-old's coaching journey takes him in the next decade - could it even be to Europe, or perhaps he might have another go at the Bafana Bafana job one day.