11 October 2019, by:Leonard Solms

Foreign Coaches in the PSL: When Is The Grass Greener On The Other Side?

Since Steve Komphela urged Luc Eymael not to return to South Africa, questioning his respect for local football, the foreign vs. local coach debate has been a hot topic.

The pair have a personal history, but underneath their war of words is a far broader issue — one which in a sense is bigger than football itself.

Some coaches from abroad have come into South Africa and failed to adapt while others have revolutionised the PSL. However, underpinning the success of the best foreign coaches is usually a respect for and understanding of South Africa’s history and football alike.

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Lessons from the PSL's adopted sons

This was at the heart of the legacy left by the late, great Ted Dumitru. In the words of former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda, the Romanian became “an adopted son of Africa”.

Dumitru was a firm believer that rather than copying European methods, South Africa should play to its own strengths. He favoured flair over physicality — leading to widespread criticism of his methods while he was Bafana coach.

Not even Dumitru’s legacy should be above reproach. However, even his fiercest critics would have a tough time disputing that he made an invaluable contribution to South African football.

He could easily have chosen to pursue personal glory but instead invested time into unearthing talented coaches and players.

A former rival and friend of Dumitru, Augusto Palacios, shares this selflessness.

The Peruvian led Orlando Pirates to the Premiership title in 2012 and could have easily kept chasing the limelight. Instead, he prefers to focus on youth development.

Palacios may have shunned the celebrity lifestyle, but when asked about his current projects, he has all the time in the world to talk — the passion shining through even with his imperfect English.

In recent years, Palacios has nurtured the likes of Lyle Foster and Thabiso Monyane. His contribution to the South African game will live long into the future.

Amid all the talk about promoting local coaches, we should not seek to drive mentors in the mould of Palacios and Dumitru away.

We should not close doors for coaches such as Kaitano Tembo, a Zimbabwean who has become part of the furniture in the South African game. Tembo patiently waited his turn in the hot seat at SuperSport United and has impressed since being promoted from assistant to take over from Eric Tinkler.

Tembo has brought Thamsanqa Gabuza back to his best and nurtured the likes of Sipho Mbule, Teboho Mokoena and Jamie Webber, guiding Matsatsantsa to MTN8 glory.

Local is lekker

Talented coaches — especially fellow African coaches — who can enhance the South African game should be welcomed. The sort of situation we should strive to avoid, however, is a repeat of Lionel Soccoia’s brief tenure at Black Leopards.

The Frenchman boasts vast experience across the African continent, but only lasted five games at Lidoda Duvha. His brief tenure was marred by rumours of mutiny among the players and technical team.

It would be unfair to blame all of Black Leopards’ early season struggles on Soccoia, but it was a gamble to bring him on board. If Leopards weren’t absolutely certain that Soccoia was the man for the job, perhaps that roll of the dice would have been better off used on a local coach.

South African football is richer for the expertise passed on by some quality foreign coaches. However, we also have plenty of talented local coaches within the systems of our clubs.

If we are going to gamble on coaches without experience in PSL top jobs, perhaps it is time to promote from within rather than assuming the grass will be greener on the other side of the fence.

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