When Dan “Dance” Malesela arrived at Chippa United in December, the mandate from the club’s owner, Siviwe “Chippa” Mpengesi, was to save them from relegation.
Malesela, who came in as assistant coach, recalled telling his boss: “I never play to save teams from relegation, but we play to compete for the top.”
Nine games later, United are in the mix among the teams contesting for top-eight berths in the Absa Premiership.
The Chilli Boys are sixth on the Premiership standings after their loss to University of Pretoria on Saturday.
“The challenge is, I have this thing of giving people hope that bigger things will come from the teams I coach. They start seeing good football and get excited, without leaving room that we are bound to lose some matches along the way.”
This may explain why Malesela has never really enjoyed the fruits of his labour despite being lauded by many for the good brand of structured football that is now his signature wherever he goes (see box).
“There are a lot of people out there who have the influence on the owners of the clubs, and sadly the quickest solution to problems is always to fire or fight. Football is a process and I am not a magician,” said the legendary former Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates defender.
The secret behind Malesela’s coaching philosophy is crafted from the smart way in which he conducts his team’s training sessions.
“I design simple exercises and drills. I always engage with my players to establish if our strategies work or not. For anything that doesn’t work, we stop to get everyone to think about the better way of doing it. I also explain why we do certain exercises,” he said.
“I also don’t believe in making players run hard. How many times do you see players running over 50m on the field? They just stand there most of the time. Instead, a soccer ball is there every single moment in our training, except for during mind games sessions, where a ball is not involved.”
Malesela (50), who hails from Atteridgeville, Pretoria, has achieved a lot with mostly young players, particularly during his time in the National First Division (NFD).
“I always invest in young players to give us mileage, because they have the energy. I am proud to see some of the boys who came through my hands doing so well – there’s Keagan Dolly [at Sundowns], Buhle Mkhwanazi, Jabulani Shongwe [both Bidvest Wits], Siyanda Xulu [Kaizer Chiefs], Kwanda Mngonyama [Maritzburg United]...”
Malesela is also renowned for giving hope to players rejected by their clubs.
The likes of David Zulu (on loan from Chiefs), Joseph Molangoane, Ruben Cloete (both former Pirates) and Lerato Manzini (ex-Bloemfontein Celtic) are just some of those whose careers have been revived by the former Pirates captain.
Then there is the unique story of Xola Mlambo, the 24-year-old midfielder who has been a revelation for United lately.
Malesela brought his charge to Cape Town All Stars when he was coaching the NFD side last year.
“Xola was released by All Stars just a week after they fired me. I took him from the Sundowns ABC Motsepe League side because I saw potential in him as Premiership material. He finds himself in the [top league] with me despite playing just a few games in the NFD.”
Mlambo scored in United’s 2-0 win over Free State Stars last weekend, a victory that was the Port Elizabeth-based side’s third in a row and one of the reasons for Malesela’s unique celebrations on the touchline.
“Those celebrations are just to relieve the tension, but at the same time I think we score beautiful goals worth celebrating.”
Even more to celebrate is that Malesela’s side is now in with a good chance of handing Chippa his first top-eight finish in the club’s seven-year history.
“The owner [Mpengesi] is very supportive of this club and he has passion for the game. He told me when I arrived that he was tired of firing and hiring coaches. It’s going to be a bit challenging to preserve our top spot – but since anything can happen, we won’t move down.”
Tactics are not only Malesela’s job at United – he has established a family atmosphere around his team.
“I am trying to build responsible men. We have a WhatsApp group where we constantly motivate each other.”
. Joined in July last year but was sacked five months later despite Stars sitting third on the National First Division (NFD) log.
. He spent a season and a half at the club and his highlight was the team’s fairy tale run in the 2013 Nedbank Cup, where they reached the semifinals.
. Guided the development team to the Metropolitan Under-19 Cup triumph in just one season in charge.
. Left the then NFD campaigners after just seven matches in charge in 2008, having joined from Benoni Premier United.