Rhulani Mokwena pointed out that his Mamelodi Sundowns side lacked experience like that of Andile Jali when they bombed out of the Caf Champions League on Saturday.
Downs twice let a lead slip as the game ended in a two-all draw, and that echoes Mokwena’s sentiments about his side not having enough experience.
But where exactly did Mokwena get it wrong, and what can he do to make the Brazilians a better team in next season’s Champions League?
Andile Jali is the experience Mokwena needed at Mamelodi Sundowns
When the news broke that Andile Jaliand Sipho Mbule reportedly pitched up at training under the influence of alcohol, Mokwena decided not to address the matter when he was confronted by members of the media in various press conferences. However, Mbule was never excluded from Mokwena’s team while his co-accused, Jali, was frozen out.
Perhaps it is Jali’s well-documented history when it comes to being ill-disciplined. Still, Mokwena’s handling of the Jali situation was rather immature, and in the end, it cost Sundowns a chance to reach the final. A player like Jali would have made a great deal of difference in the heart of Masandawana’s midfield on Saturday night.
Maema and Allende’s void felt
Neo Maema and Marcelo Allende are starters for Mokwena’s side, and their absence was visibly evident on Saturday. Maema, together with Allende and Themba Zwane, has been the brains trust when it comes to making sure that the creative juices flow at the club.
The late Alex “Goldfinger” Shakoane once said players like Jali and Teboho Mokoena hold the piano, while Zwane, Maema, Allende and Gaston Sirino play the music in Sundowns’ shoe-shine and piano brand of football. The absence of Maema and Allende dealt a dent in Masandawana’s style of play and forward movement.
Wrong team selection
Why did Mokwena start with Mbule and Siphelele Mkhulise when he had options like Bradley Ralani, Cassius Mailula, Gaston Sirino and Abubaker Nassir on the bench? Mbule, unfortunately, is not a player to rely on in big games.
Mokwena needed to start the game with Sirino and perhaps Ralani, who have raised their hands in the past few games. Mokwena is using a classy performer like Ralani as a part-time player. The former Cape Town City star has made 16 appearances in all competitions this season and every time he plays, he links up well with Zwane and Shalulile.
Style of play – why not compromise?
In the Champions League, no one will remember how well you played. It is always about who makes it to the final and wins. It is the business end of the competition, and at some point, you have to do whatever it takes to get a win and advance to the next stage. Mokwena however, decided to stick to Downs’ flashy play style, which did not yield any results.
Yes, Sundowns were the best ball-playing team in the competition, but that counts for nothing if you cannot get the results. Mokwena was supposed to abandon the piano and shoe-shine and approach the game in a different way, perhaps more direct, like how all North African sides play in the Champions League.
Young team needs to grow quickly
At the end of it all, it has to be said that the current Sundowns team is young as far as Champions League football is concerned. Several Downs players are either playing in their first or second Champions League campaign. That on its own will always be a factor, much like how Kaizer Chief are a big team on paper, but on the field, Arthur Zwane still has much to do if he wants to restore Amakhosi’s glory day.
Mokwena was right when he said his team has gained experience, but has he learned from his mistakes? The buck stops with him and if he does not win the Champions League next season, perhaps, just maybe, Downs’ top brass might have to pull the plug on the relatively inexperienced coach.
Downs will always be judged on Champions League performance
Sundowns are a good team, the evidence to illuminate that is overwhelming. They have dominated the local scene as far as the PSL is concerned, but when it comes to the Champions League, Downs have been huffing for the past couple of years, and there are no results.
Sure, Mokwena said his team will eventually win the Champions League, but when? As much as Downs are a good side, they will always be judged on their performance in the continental showpiece because the PSL is their daily bread. Mokwena’s head would roll at a different club, given the resources and quality he has at his disposal.-Goal