In the PSL, there are a few truly legendary coaches – those who have won titles and improved teams and who have been top of the wish lists of all top clubs’ owners at some point. Pitso Mosimane and Gavin Hunt are usually classed together, with the duo having lifted nine PSL league titles between them. Yet one coach is often forgotten… four-time league winner, Gordon Igesund.
From 1972, when Igesund was 16, he played for a plethora of clubs in South Africa and even in continental competition for a European club. Most of his clubs within Mzansi were situation in Kwazulu-Natal including Durban City, Durban United, Durban Bush Bucks, AmaZulu, and African Wanderers. Aside from those sides, he also had stints at Highlands Park (which became Jomo Cosmos), Witbank Black Aces, D’Alberton Callies, and Dynamos FC.
Although the playing career of the coach is rarely spoken of, he also had a distinguished time playing in Austria thanks to the recommendation of Walter Rautman, who had coached AmaZulu and helped Igesund get a move to Athletik-Sport Klub. He also had spells at Simmering FC and FC Admira Wacker Mödling. It was with the latter that he featured in the UEFA Cup and was then selected for the All Stars team (made up of foreigners) which faced off against Austria’s national team.
ROAD TO RANGERS
As has become folklore in local football, Igesund took Manning Rangers to the league title in the inaugural 2006/07 PSL season. Less known though is that he also won championships with D’Alberton Callies in 1992 and then with African Wanderers in 1994.
Igesund spent four seasons with The Mighty Maulers, leading them to a top-five finish every year. In that first season, his Manning Rangers side finished eight points clear of Kaizer Chiefs with 74 points. His side were prolific scorers but actually had only the 5th best defensive record as champions.
That trend continued the following year with Rangers topping the league scoring charts but conceding the most goals of any team in the top half of the log. Igesund’s side ended 5th that campaign and also played in the CAF Champions League, finishing second in their group and missing out on a place in the final by three points.
The 1999/2000 season proved Igesund’s fourth and final one in charge of Rangers but their terrible defensive record with 49 goals conceded meant a 5th place finish and no title challenge. Considering the limited resources at the club, the coach had done an incredible job. Although the football was quite direct, his side scored plenty of goals. A swath of complete unknowns became household names in those four years with Keryn Jordan, Grant Johnson, Clinton Larsen, George Koumantarakis, and Innocent Chikoya some of those who excelled.
BUCS GO FOR BANKER
Having won the CAF Champions League in 1995, Pirates had three seasons of top-three finishes from 1997 to 2000 but didn’t qualify for the continental tournament. The club had also gone six seasons without a title. They therefore moved for Igesund as perhaps the man most likely to end their drought.
The coach lasted just one season at Pirates, but he duly delivered the league title having ended one point ahead of Kaizer Chiefs. Bucs led the league for goals scored that season, won the BP Top 8 Cup too, and lost in the Rothmans Cup final.
It was an outstanding campaign in terms of results but the Pirates faithful could not stand the direct football on show. There was talk that Bucs supporters had disrupted training and assaulted the coach after a 1-0 defeat to Bush Bucks and after a single season, he left the club. He won the PSL Coach of the Season award.
Igesund had a superb pool of players at his disposal, including the likes of Williams Okpara in goal, Willem Jackson, the late Papi Khomane, Steve Lekoelea, Thabo Mngomeni, Dennis Lota and Pollen Ndlanya. The squad was further strengthened as he brought the likes of Clinton Larsen, Grant Johnson, and Innocent Chikoya with him from Manning Rangers too.
THE PEOPLE’S TEAM
Igesund’s next PSL coaching job was in Cape Town with “The People’s Team”, Santos for the 2001/02 season. There, he was reunited with Afzal Khan, who had been Manning Rangers CEO during their title-winning campaign. Santos was looking for a new coach after Clive Barker’s departure.
What followed was remarkable… a third league title for Igesund with a third different club. This time, he based his team on a rock-solid defence – with André Arendse in goal, Musa Otieno and Edries Burton in the backline, and then the powerful, Jean-Marc Ithier up front.
AJAX CAPE TOWN
After a single season at Santos, Igesund jumped ship to rivals, Ajax Cape Town. Santos took the issue to court and sued Igesund for breach of contract. The judge found that Ajax had not induced Igesund into breaking his contract and that no damages were due. However, the coach was told to return to work at Santos.
A year later than intended, Igesund took over at Ikamva for the first of four seasons there. His first campaign wasn’t great as Ajax battled relegation and picked up just 33 points. He did take the side to the ABSA Cup final though.
Once the squad had gotten to know his methods, Igesund finished second the following season albeit the Urban Warriors were six points off Kaizer Chiefs. It was nevertheless a remarkable season for Ajax. That season led to the coach winning the Manager of the Decade award handed out by Kickoff Magazine.
His final two seasons with Ajax Cape Town saw sixth and tenth places finished with an inexperienced squad and minimal transfer funds at his disposal.
Having gone five seasons without a league title, Sundowns lifted the 2005/06 crown under the combined stewardship of Neil Tovey and Miguel Gamondi. Nevertheless, Igesund came in at the end of that season. Unsurprisingly, the coach immediately delivered the 2006/07 league title as he had done in his first season at all of Manning Rangers, Orlando Pirates, and Santos.
Sundowns won the league by 10 points over Silver Stars, scoring the most goals and conceding the fewest in the league. Both the PSL Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season awards went to Downs’ Godfrey Sapula.
Igesund stayed a second season at Sundowns, taking the side to a cup win in the SAA Super 8 trophy but he couldn’t make it a double after a loss on penalties in the Telkom Knockout final to an Itumeleng Khune-inspired Kaizer Chiefs.
After two seasons, the coach departed to once again team up with Afzal Khan, this time at Maritzburg United.
WINNER BECOMES FIREFIGHTER
After four league titles as a coach, Igesund went from being the go-to man to make history at clubs like Manning Rangers and Santos or restoring glory at top clubs like Pirates and Sundowns, to a relegation firefighter.
At Maritzburg United, he took over right before the season started and the club had not made major signings are a disjoined preseason. He kept the side in the PSL, a good achievement, but the following season, after just three wins in the opening 15 games, he resigned from the job. He then went to Free State Stars and kept them in the league too, before undertaking one of his most impressive jobs.
DON’T FOLLOW ME, FOLLOW THE BIRDS
In November 2010, with Moroka Swallows sitting on two points after nine PSL matches, they fired Rainer Zobel and appointed Igesund to try to save the club. Upon his appointment, Afzal Khan spoke about the coach:
“Gordon played amongst the greats of football in Austria and Germany, so when he returned to South Africa he was miles ahead of anyone here on coaching techniques. The coach’s motivation is second to none. He instills a will to win and fight in even the average or most unfashionable club. For this reason, he is a major asset to Swallows. His passion has come at a price though. He lives for the game and has no friends, apart from me, as he does nothing but think about the game. I think with that kind of dedication he should have been Bafana Bafana coach a long time ago. He should have been chosen above the mediocre international coaches we have had. Gordon sees this as a gross injustice but holds hope that an international position will not evade him for much longer. He will show his ability and get the best out of the team. He will make Swallows survive.”
The coach had no time for pretty football and immediately brought in a direct style with the side focused on creating chances for veteran frontman, Siyabonga Nomvethe.
By the of that season, Swallows had finished in 13th position, taking 30 points from 21 games under Igesund’s leadership. It was a very impressive turnaround from a club that looked dead and buried. What followed in his second season was remarkable. Swallows were not only nowhere in the relegation zone but entering the final match, they were in the title race as they sat two points off Pirates. Bucs pipped them to the crown in dramatic fashion after a brace by Benni McCarthy in the final 30 minutes.
Nomvethe won the player of the season that campaign whilst Lerato Chabangu was incredible in midfield. The coach admitted years later that the playmaker, nicknamed “All You Need Is Love” often played games drunk yet was able to produce incredible passes and freekicks. Igesund won the PSL Coach of the Season award for the 2011/12 season.
BAFANA – FINALLY
After a very long wait, Igesund was finally given the Bafana Bafana job on a two-year contract with the mandate to make it to the semi-finals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
When the tournament arrived, the side played some reasonably good football and got to the quarter-finals, missing out on the mandate set out after a defeat on penalties to Mali. Bafana had progressed from their group after a 0-0 draw with Cape Verde, a 2-0 win against Angola, and a 2-2 draw with Morocco.
The coach kept his job, but he was expected to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Igesund oversaw a good start in qualifying as Bafana beat Central African Republic 2-0 at home and then beat the same opponents 3-0 away. However, a 2-1 loss away to Ethiopia proved costly and even a 4-1 home win against Botswana in the final game was not enough.
Of course, the coach was castigated for his failure, but he had inherited a tough situation. Bafana had drawn 1-1 at home with Ethiopia in qualifying under Pitso Mosimane before a 1-1 draw away from home in Botswana under caretaker coach, Steve Komphela. Igesund was only in charge of four of the six qualification matches and much of the damage was done before his appointment.
The coach was then expected to win the 2014 CHAN tournament but a 3-1 loss to Nigeria saw the team eliminated. However, numerous Orlando Pirates and Ajax Cape Town players were unavailable, and he had a mix-and-match squad to choose from.
Igesund’s contract was not renewed after two years and Shakes Mashaba came in to take over as coach.
Next up for the coach was to take over at Matsatsantsa. The club had sacked Cavin Johnson after a poor start to the season (four losses in five games) and Igesund came in, making a big initial impact. After just 10 matches in charge, SuperSport had lifted the Telkom Knockout and won four of the six league matches he had overseen.
However, with just seven wins in the final 19 league matches, things had started to go downhill somewhat. That trend continued at the start of his second season as the side lost four of the first seven league matches and sat in 17th position.
By January, things had not turned around and Igesund was sacked after 15 games with his side having won four matches and sitting in 10th place. Stuart Baxter replaced the four-time league winner at SuperSport United.
Gordon Igesund’s most recent job was during the 2016-17 season as he returned to the newly promoted Highlands Park some 47 years after playing for the club. That was before they became defunct after being sold to Jomo Sono, who subsequently formed Jomo Cosmos. The coach was delighted with his homecoming as he enthused in an interview:
“I’m very excited about coaching Highlands Park because of the affinity I have with the name Highlands Park. When I think of Highlands I think of players like Martin Cohen‚ Julie Kaplan‚ Des Backos‚ Eugene Kleynhans‚ Jerry Sadike – the first black player to play for a white team in 1979. Highlands Park are an institution. And to be part of that and try and get Highlands back to where they were in those days would be a fantastic achievement for everybody‚ and a fantastic thing for football in South Africa.”
His brief was put simply by director, Sinky Mnisi: “Very simply‚ to stay in the PSL. The top eight would be a bonus. To stay in the PSL is what Gordon is here for.”
The coach had not seen his dismissal coming with just four games left and the coaching change did not help matters as Highlands Park finished bottom and were relegated.
“It was unexpected. We had 22 points and were on track for our next four games. Three of them are against the sides we are battling – Baroka, Platinum Stars, and Chippa United. I believed we would escape relegation despite the fact that we are at the bottom”, said the coach.
WHY ISN’T HE WORKING IN THE PSL?
Since those two tough spells at SuperSport United (albeit winning a trophy early on) and his inability to impact things at Highlands Park, Igesund has not worked in the PSL. Perhaps the latter spell damaged his recent reputation for being a reliable firefighter for relegation teams.
It is not clear why no one has given the coach a new job but perhaps that boat has now totally sailed at the age of 67 and with football moving forward into a new world of pressing and build-up play and video analysis (something Igesund was never a fan of) and he has simply been left behind? Either way, it is puzzling that a four-time league winner is not receiving regular offers or links to vacant jobs.
He was said to have been earmarked for the Swallows FC job before the club went for Brandon Truter, who did a a really good job. He was briefly linked in the media with the Kaizer Chiefs job after Ernst Middendorp’s dismissal, talking up the style of football that his team plays:
“At this stage, if I’m linked to the job obviously, I would be very interested and honored. They need to play the kind of football Kaizer Chiefs is known to play. At Orlando Pirates when we won the championship, the BP Top 8, and were finalists in the Rothmans Cup, we played fantastic football. At Sundowns, we were outstanding and played some of the best football in the country making those memorable 64 passes at Loftus against Kaizer Chiefs on the way to winning the title.”
The coach started an academy in Cape Town a few years ago but emphasised that he has not retired. In April 2020, he stated he would be back in the PSL this season. It’s been three-and-a-half years since those comments, though:
“People think I have retired, but I haven’t. I have been working hard on my academy for the past 18 months. We’ve got 300 boys whom we feed 200 meals a month. We are schooling them. It is a proper, proper academy and it is what I’m doing. But at the same time, I have been keeping myself abreast of what is happening in the PSL, and also new coaching methods in the world. We’ll see if something comes up.”