The Big Interview: Maritzburg United assistant coach Maahier Davids speaks to Goal

Following the Team of Choice's success this season, Goal profiles the career of one half of the Davids duo that has taken the PSL by storm

Looking back on the 2017/18 season, it’s easy to get lost in the euphoria of Mamelodi Sundowns winning their eighth Premier Soccer League (PSL) title and overlooking the impressive achievements of others, after all no one truly remembers those who came second.

But perhaps there will be a change this time around, considering the role that smaller clubs such as Free State Stars and Maritzburg United have played.

While both teams are set to lock horns in the Nedbank Cup final, the Team of Choice’s move up the South African ranks in particular, has been nothing short of miraculous, albeit calculated.

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Maritzburg is arguably one of South Africa’s smaller teams, who hail from the capital city of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, and while the city is rich in its history, the club though has never really threatened to be among the PSL’s big boys until this season.

It was only a few seasons ago when Maritzburg pulled off a great escape on the last day of the season to keep football alive in the City, but fast forward a few years later and under the mentorship of two of South Africa’s brightest young coaches the fortunes of the Farook Kadodia led football club has been turned around as they found themselves sailing in uncharted waters this season, registering a record breaking top four finish - the highest league placing in the club's short history.  

At the beginning of the season, the Maritzburg chairman was lauded for finally giving former star player and assistant coach Fadlu Davids the head coaching job, but even then, no one could have predicted how the season would go.

But while Davids’ work has been highly impressive, it has certainly been a team effort. Next to Davids on the bench, he has the backing of a technical team with similar vision and goal, none more so than his very own brother Maahier, who is slowly building a strong reputation for himself as one of the rising coaches in South African football.

Maahier is the younger brother of the head coach, and while Fadlu has had the luck of cutting it in the ‘big leagues’ as a player, the unassuming Maahier has not shared the same experience. But this has only encouraged the younger Davids brother to work harder and find another avenue to reach the top of the football world, as he explains in an exclusive interview with Goal.

“I didn't make it as a professional football player and at the age of 23, 24 I could see that. I had some bad injuries I couldn't recover properly from it. I could see my body wasn't the same and I had ambitions like most players to be a professional football player to be (playing) at the highest level in South Africa, to play at the highest level in Europe and at that age, I started to realize that it’s not going to happen and instead of forcing it, I took another route and I decided I can start now I’m coaching now already and it will give me a head start. I can still be involved with the game and I can still do what I love, being on the football field even though it’s from a different capacity; that’s basically when I started out of course," Davids told Goal

Maahier’s coaching career though, did not immediately start out at a professional level, but rather at school level where he would gain the necessary experience, before eventually going on to work in some of Cape Town’s most prestigious youth academies.

“I started out at schools, some private schools, just doing some coaching not knowing what I was doing, because one day I was a player and the next day I was a coach coaching kids, and then I got an opportunity to work at Santos under-11. I was working with, I think he's the assistant coach of Ubuntu now JP Farrugia. He welcomed me in and he said no come and help me out. I was there I think for a season... I’m not too sure. Then I got an opportunity to go back to Ajax where I was a youth player before and then I was assisting under-17 as assistant coach with Noel Cousins that’s basically where and how I got into coaching," he added. 

Davids has certainly come a long way since then, not only in terms of his experience but qualifications too. Aside from doing the usual South African Football Association (Safa) courses, Davids has also studied through the famous former Barcelona and Dutch national team fitness guru Raymond Verheijen’s World Football Academy, as well as acquired a Uefa B licence. But it doesn’t stop there for the former Ajax youth coach, who will be jetting out to Europe to complete his Uefa A licence in the off-season.

Maritzburg United PS

Meanwhile, there is a popular saying that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ but in the case of the Davids brothers, there seems to be an exception.

While admittedly, Maahier acknowledges that they do not agree on everything, for the most part, he reveals that they share a common goal, which is partly responsible for their success.

“Yeah, it’s a natural fit. I think we think quite similar in terms of our football philosophy and playing style and how we approach training, our thinking when it comes to planning training sessions, planning the season, planning individual periodization, team periodization,” he explained.

“You know it works out quite well. We don’t always agree on things, but we are able to put our differences aside and do what’s best for the team. Of course, we have an existing relationship but it’s professional now. It’s all about how can the team improve and how can we get better as a team so it’s been good so far,” he added.

Furthermore, Maahier may be an assistant coach but that certainly doesn’t mean he is only setting up cones for training drills. Rather, Maahier explains that due to Maritzburg having a small technical team, their roles are more varied.

“Look, we have a small technical team. So, my role is quite broad. I am involved with the training sessions, leading the training sessions everyday as with the video sessions, opposition analyses post-match analyses,” he said.

“I do a bit of everything it’s not really specific in terms of others only picking training. We really vary things up you know. At the end of the day I’m the only one who takes post-match analysis on the players you know they get used to a certain voice they get used to a certain style. So, we mix it up. I’m involved with coaching post and pre-match analysis, opposition analysis, the conditioning of the players as well. It’s a little bit of everything because we have a small technical team we have to have the capacity to do a little bit of everything,” he elaborated.

One important element that perhaps forced Maahier to work even harder to succeed was his lack of professional playing experience, but he admits that when you look at some of the top coaches doing the business overseas, being a former player is no longer becoming a prerequisite to succeed at the top.

“It’s changing now, it’s changing. The easiest example is Mourinho - he hasn't played at the highest level but he’s coaching the biggest club in the world. If we go to Germany now coach Domenico Tedesco of Schalke are all coaches who haven’t played at the highest level. So, the football world is changing,” he said.

“If you haven't played at the highest level, you probably work a little harder, because you have to be able to relate to the players to have to connect with them at a certain level if you played in the (Uefa) Champions League immediately you have that respect, but the problem is that if you played at the highest level and you are not able to relay your experience, if you can’t explain to players what exactly you are asking of them then it’s a problem,” Maahier noted.

“So, if you come from the other side then you're forced to think a little differently, you're forced to work a little bit harder, you're forced to relate to players on a different level because you know you have to take the hard hours you have to take a slower route to the top. So if you look at it from that side, you know it’s giving me that advantage and the next thing is as well because I started younger right now there’s still players who are older than me that I'm coaching with and there is players who are my age. So, you know I relate to them on the human side a little bit easier, whereas if I'm a 40, 50 years old with this new generation you can’t relate to them but now I can relate to the human. So, that makes it easier as well. So, on the one side there’s pros and there’s cons to being a professional and being a young coach coming in as well,” he continued.

When one looks at the coaching careers of both Fadlu and Maahier, there has been one common figure, and that has been former Maritzburg United coach Ernst Middendorp. It is common knowledge the role that the German-born tactician has played in Fadlu’s career, but Maahier too reveals that it was the former Kaizer Chiefs coach who actually gave him his break in the PSL.

“You know he is the one that gave me the opportunity in the PSL. He took me when I left Ajax after coaching for 4-5 years at Ajax, he was the one that said, 'no come jump straight into the PSL with Free State Stars'. So, you know I owe him a lot as well in terms of opportunity and the faith that he put in me and of course learning a lot with him at Free State stars, then again at Martizburg United,” Maahier revealed.

Maritzburg United PS

“It’s been valuable because he's coming now with decades and decades of coaching experience all over the world - in Asia, in Europe, in the Bundesliga, in South Africa, in Ghana. So, you can go to courses, you can read books, but to work with him on a daily basis, actually see how he plans sessions how he interacts with the staff, how he interacts with the players, how he handles pressure situations, how he handles situations where you know we are on a good run, you know that that was invaluable to me. I still speak to him regularly now, always getting advice just touching base and really a good help,” he continued.

Nonetheless, in spite of Maahier’s amazing rise he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground and when asked about his desire to make the ultimate jump to head coach, his response paid tribute to his strong values.

“At the moment I just want to learn as much as I can in the PSL, and my goal is also to get my pro license and go on as many courses as possible. There’s a lot more I can learn in terms of courses in terms of licenses and things like that, travel as much as I can and once I've got my (Uefa) Pro licence, I can start thinking about the head coach position or some other position from there,” he explained.

Lastly, following Maritzburg’s amazing run, Maahier stated that there was no secret behind their success, instead it was determination and hard work from everyone that saw them achieve above expectations.

“Hard work, there’s no [any other] secret. Hard work from myself, the technical team, the players. You know that’s what it comes down to. You don't put in the miles you're not going to get where you want to go and at the end of the day you know we can tell the players to play a certain way, certain game plan but if they don't run on the day, it’s not going to work if they don't buy into the plan,” he expressed.

“It’s a lot of hard work that the players put in everyday, they have to take a lot of the credit. And of course the support of the Maritzburg United management has been crucial. The Chairman has shown a lot of faith in the team and supported us from day one.” he concluded.