Time to kiss and make up?

2009-11-14 00:00

GORDON Igesund was the biggest-name coach Maritzburg United ever hired, with the most impressive track record. He fought relegation in his first season then officially resigned, though unofficially was pushed, halfway through his second. There has to be a lesson to be learnt in that somewhere.

The conditions under which Igesund was appointed were always going to be controversial, succeeding previous Maritzburg coach Ian Palmer who had promoted the team from the First Division back to the Premier Soccer League.

Few coaches can have worked harder than Igesund did at United. He is, without doubt, one of the country’s best coaches and his record speaks for itself. The coach has won a league title in each of South Africa’s major football cities — Durban (Manning Rangers), Johannesburg (Orlando Pirates), Cape Town (Santos) and Pretoria (Mamelodi Sundowns).

Apart from Pirates and Sundowns, those titles came at small clubs with few resources, a lot like United. Igesund’s secret was to organise those teams better than anyone else and have them fitter than any other team. Then the coach would instil the crisp passing and come up with a winning gameplan to take advantage of some poorly-organised smaller teams and the arrogantly over-confident big sides. These days, with teams like SuperSport United, Orlando Pirates under Ruud Krol, Ajax Cape Town, Lamontville Golden Arrows and Wits University, and with the money that has come into football seeing a higher level of coaching and organisation at most PSL clubs, things have become that much tougher.

There were some mistakes Igesund made at United. Last season, letting tidy goalkeeper Dominic Sithole go and replacing him with erratic Namibian Athiel Mbaha and American Hunter Gilstrap off the evidence of Youtube and one friendly on a bumpy field in Ladysmith. This season, bringing in 17 new faces to rebuild the team almost from start.

Despite these, though, Igesund did bring some class players to Pietermaritzburg and over two seasons assembled squads that can justifiably be called the strongest ever seen at United. So why did he not succeed? Twice United started a season looking like top eight candidates, and twice they failed to ignite. Sometimes it’s that almost indefinable combination of factors that can lead to a winning formula, or lack of it, that is so important to the success of a sporting team.

Now United are coachless in the PSL and Palmer is among the candidates. The emotional choice among the fans and players that survive from his 2008 squad would be to bring the coach back.

The indications are that United are not keen on this idea. The club might have some points in their favour. Going backwards often does not work, and whatever formula Palmer had in 2008 has surely been broken down in a season-and-a-half under another coach. As much as appointing a big name in Igesund was no guarantee of success, so might be bringing back Palmer.

Of United’s other candidates former Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp and ex-Bloemfontein Celtic and Bay United boss Khabo Zondo don’t appear to have the credentials for this particular job. Stronger options are hugely experienced former Mamelodi Sundowns head Ted Dumitru and ex-Moroka Swallows coach and Ajax Cape Town and Thanda Royal Zulu assistant Ian Gorowa.

At the end of the day it shouldn’t be rocket science. United’s aim is to get the best man for the job, pure and simple. Of all the candidates apart from Palmer, Gorowa’s name stands out. The Zimbabwean is an up-and-coming coach and recognised to be very strong technically. United have a tough choice to make, but in Gorowa or Palmer have two strong candidates who both seem capable of taking the club forwards.

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