Rhulani Mokwena is a players’ coach through and through, but that doesn’t mean he spares the emotions of his players if they are not pulling their weight.
Mamelodi Sundowns have been the best team in Africa in recent months. Sundowns are the first African Football League champions and are on course to win the domestic league for a record seventh time in a row.
They won the AFL in some style as they beat arch-rivals Petro de Luanda, Al Ahly and Wydad Casablanca a few weeks ago en route to the title.
Their aspirations to defend their domestic title also haven’t suffered, thanks to their dominant start.
The Brazilians returned to the DStv Premiership on Wednesday night and beat cross-town rivals SuperSport United 2-0 to break their own record of eight wins in the first eight games in the league.
It was a victory that saw them return to their rightful place, the top of the log, having been displaced momentarily by Cape Town City, who have played four more games, on Saturday.
Sundowns’ win over SuperSport showed the depth and hunger within the team, as Mokwena largely fielded a B-team due to injuries and fatigue. But while the likes of Neo Maema and Lebohang Maboe showed no signs of poor match fitness, Mokwena says it’s not always easy to motivate the players to give their the best at all times.
“It’s not always nice talks (that they have with the players),” he said. “We have to push them, but it’s my job. I am paid to help the team to get results.”
Indeed, it’s not only Mokwena and Co that have ensured that Sundowns are able to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the challenges that come with playing for a club that must always win. One player who’s mastered that art is Khuliso Mudau.
“Sailor”, who has been linked with moves to Burnley and West Ham in the English Premier League, has been a breath of fresh air for Sundowns and Bafana Bafana, and has not only been lauded as the best right back in the country but one of its best players.
Given his qualities, his coach would endure a mixed bag of emotions if he was to receive an offer from clubs abroad in January.
“The Sundowns coach (in me) says Sailor is going nowhere, because I am very selfish and we need our best players. We are not a selling club, that’s very clear,” Mokwena said.
“But the human being understands that life is about growth – there’s targets.
“Though I can’t entertain it at the moment because it’s just talks. There’s nothing on (the) table for us to sit on. He’s an unbelievable football player and an incredible human being, Sailor – such a kind-hearted soul and a very important part of our team.”
Sundowns, meanwhile, have bigger fish to fry in Africa, as they try to win the Champions League for the second time. Their last success was in 2016.
Their performance has been superb so far, as they beat Nouadhihou 3-0 in their group stage opener at home on Sunday. But they’ll meet their first challenge away to TP Mazembe tomorrow.
“It’s very important to keep our momentum going,” said Mokwena before explaining the hostility that will greet them in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In my experience in the Champions League, there are three hostile environments, and Lubumbashi is one of them. If it’s not No 1, it’s No 2; in the top three.
“It will be an artificial pitch against a very good team. I watched them against Pyramids, so I can’t say much … I have a lot of homework.”