Absa Premiership

Mario ‘The Godfather’ Tuani dies

Soccer ball (Getty Images)
Soccer ball (Getty Images)

Cape Town - He was known by all and sundry as "The Godfather" and according to former soccer coach and Mamelodi Sundowns boss, Angelo Tsichlas, revolutionised soccer coaching methods in South Africa in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

This was one of the many tributes and accolades heaped on Mario Tuani on Sunday following news that the legendary and charismatic coach who served South African soccer for more than 30 years has died in Chile - the South American country of his birth.

Tuani guided Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns to PSL championship titles, as well as serving Highlands Park, Orlando Pirates, Hellenic, Powerlines, Berea Park and other clubs with success and distinction.

He also stamped his mark indelibly on South African soccer as the coach of what was termed the country's Black XI in the multinational tournament that marked the beginning of the end of the odious apartheid doctrine in the country's sport; recruiting a host of gifted South American players to feature in the NFL and later the NPSL and arranging the visit of the composite Argentinian side that played against the country's first multi-racial national team.

On the overseas front, Tuani coached world-renowned Penarol to the Uruguayan championship and guided Doxa to the Greek League title.

"South African soccer is indebted to him in no small measure and I am deeply saddened by the news of his death," said PSL and Orlando Pirates chairperson, Irvin Khoza. "He had a giant-size personality and infectious aura and provided a canny and cunning insight into soccer here when it was needed most."
Kaizer Chiefs supremo Kaizer Motaung said the Amakhosi team that Tuani coached to the NPSL title in 1979 remained to this day one of the best in the club's history.

"He was a friend and an inspiration," added Motaung. "He brushed aside the apartheid restrictions and was revered by black players and fans alike. What we are hearing is indeed very sad news.

Natasha Tsichlas, the SAFA technical committee head and with husband Angelo Tsichlas the former co-owners of Sundowns, shared the sentiment: "All we know about soccer we learnt from Mario Tuani. This is devastating news about the passing of someone who meant much to us and soccer generally in the country."

Former Peruvian World Cup player and Orlando Pirates Director of Development, Augusto Palacios, said Tuani had put South American soccer on the map in South Africa through his insight into the game and importing top-class footballers like Santoro and Walter da Silva "who played the kind of skilled brand of soccer South African fans like best."

Hennie Joubert, who played under Tuani at Highlands Park, said the Chilean was a truly professional coach "but more than anything he was a motivator like no other I have encountered.

"I remember," added Joubert, "Santoro making the same point with the wry comment that Tuani was the only man he knew who could sell eggs to a chicken!"

Now gone, but clearly not forgotten is "The Godfather" who graced South African soccer with consummate class and panache.

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