Mosimane’s obsession with football is as intense as his addiction to coffee on match days. Daniel Mothowagae discovers unique characteristics that make the Sundowns coach and his team such a tight unit.
The story behind the white fomo cup
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane loves his coffee so much that his white styrofoam, AKA fomo, cup has become part of his match-day routine.
The sight of Mosimane clutching at his hot beverage before or after his team’s games has become a lot like the grey knitted jersey worn by Pep Guardiola that has become a standout feature at Manchester City games.
“There’s muthi in there!” says Mosimane jokingly, when City Press enquires about the story behind the special cup.
Getting serious, he says it’s a habit he developed while playing overseas in his heyday.
“I played football in Greece,” he says, referring to his stint at Ionikos FC from 1989 to 1995. “There is a lot of coffee drinking in that Mediterranean country.
“I have also worked with the South Americans [Brazilian Carlos Parreira and his compatriot Joel Santana, both of whom coached Bafana Bafana for a spell]. They said: ‘You like coffee; bring it to the training pitch.’
“We have coffee every day at Sundowns, even at training. It’s just to calm nerves. I have it even on the pitch during matches. I like black coffee.”
While indulging in his beverage of choice, Mosimane appears contemplative.
“You may assume that I am not concentrating, but I am actually watching the players carefully,” he insists.
Of the outsiders, only Faouzi Benzarti, the coach of Moroccan outfit Wydad Athletic Club, knows exactly what the drink tastes like – he helped himself to Mosimane’s cup at a post-match conference following Wydad and Downs’ CAF Champions League second leg semifinal in Atteridgeville a fortnight ago.
Faouzi Benzarti, coach of Wydad Athletic, holds the distinct honour of being the only person to drink from Mosimane's fomo-cup. Picture: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images
How NBA inspires Downs’ approach to domestic and continental assignments
As much as he spends sleepless nights planning how to overcome his squad’s rivals, Mosimane is also a keen student of the game, determined to learn and develop.
His favourite pastime is watching National Basketball Association (NBA) games, even if this entails having to get up in the early hours of the morning to follow his favourite team, the Golden State Warriors, who campaign in the Western Conference.
“I enjoy the post-match interviews by the coaches and the players; you learn a lot. I think basketball is one of the most difficult games – you play every second day sometimes.”
Mosimane is not shy to show his frustrations on the field of play. Picture: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images
NBA teams play, on average, about three games a week over a 26-week regular season that comprises 82 matches – half of which are away fixtures. The teams travel across four time zones.
This is where Mosimane draws comparisons with his team. This season alone, the Brazilians played 49 matches in all competitions, which included criss-crossing the continent for the CAF Champions League.
“I look at the NBA schedule. Basketball is about shuttling, but the teams travel better than we do. They are not in transit because they have private jets and all that.
“We go to Morocco and come back for the next game and we complain, but these guys [basketball players] are away from home for three weeks at a time playing.
“This teaches me, as a coach who wants to win the Champions League and the league [Absa Premiership], that you need a very good technical team who will help and support you when there is a heavy programme.”
Mosimane has also been juggling his club duties with completing his CAF Pro licence coaching course in Morocco.
Mosimane's trophy cabinet
On keeping himself and his team grounded in the midst of success
“My life is easy. I don’t have a glamorous life outside of football. I am happy. I have children at school. I don’t feel pressurised to drive a Ferrari, wear this or that suit or have a certain appearance,” says Mosimane.
“These are the things that make you want more money because you feel you must keep up with the social life.”
Mosimane says his team is littered with players who were captains at their previous clubs, and this helps maintain discipline in the Downs camp.
We have a calm dressing room. It’s either you come to our level or the system rejects you. It has rejected a lot of noisy players. And if you want to fight the system, you have to be tops on the field.
On the importance of having a big backroom staff
Mosimane’s support staff firmly believe in his work and, in turn, he credits them for their massive contribution in a season that saw the team play 49 matches in competition: 30 Absa Premiership games; 14 CAF Champions League games; three MTN8 games; and two Telkom Knockouts.
“We don’t win because we are a good team; we win because we also have a good support structure,” he says.
He has 13 support staff members in total, comprising three assistant coaches; three trainers; two physiotherapists; two doctors; and three masseurs.
Mosimane said this group gathers every day at 8am for technical team meetings.
“Imagine having a board meeting every day!” he smiles, saying it helps with regard to taking care of players who are not in the travelling team, ensuring that they remain ready for selection.
Mosimane's many faces on the field have become a part of the Sundowns culture. Picture: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images
“I have a guy who follows our Champions League games; a guy who follows our next PSL game; and so on.”
He also highlights the importance of self-empowerment. To this end, he makes a point of learning how other sports operate in their respective environments.
“That’s why I attend symposiums. One is called Leaders in Sport; they have speakers who are experts in their field, such as the NBA’s medical head or a Formula One crew member. They tell us how they work, what their teams eat and so on. You need to have that kind of backup to enable you to win the Champions and Premiership leagues.”
On keeping 31 players happy
While he concedes that not everything goes according to plan, Mosimane says he has found a way to keep his camp happy, even those players who don’t make the match-day selections.
“When we lost Percy Tau and Khama Billiat, we didn’t have a striker. So I brought in a lot of guys, namely Toni Silva, Jeremy Brockie, Ali Meza, Thokozani Sekotlong and Aubrey Ngoma, and I still have Cuthbert Malajila. We overloaded because we felt this was not a normal season with two Champions League programmes, which usually means not less than 10 games for us.
“We have 30 PSL games and we got knocked out early in the domestic cup competitions. I knew it was going to be a problem for me in managing the squad and making them happy because there are so many of them.”
In most instances, Mosimane says, he has introduced fringe players when the team has been in a comfortable position or when he has had to fill the voids created by players’ injuries, loss of form and suspensions.
“All our 31 players played this season; all of them.”
Why he won’t leave Downs
“I am too loyal and I don’t like hopping,” says Mosimane, who has coached just two clubs in his career: Downs and SuperSport United. “I see my contracts through to the end and I don’t threaten that ‘so and so wants me’.
I have been loved at Sundowns. The president, Patrice Motsepe, supports me. We have a good thing going on and I am attached to these boys.
This week, Motsepe reiterated that he wanted his coach “to be the Alex Ferguson of Mamelodi Sundowns, and that means I want to keep him for as long as he wants to be here”.
Mosimane echoes the words of the club boss, saying the legendary Ferguson is one of the tacticians who has inspired him. During Ferguson’s 26 years with United, the team won 38 trophies in all competitions.
“I am motivated by Sir Alex, as well as Pep Guardiola, Arsène Wenger and Carlo Ancelotti.”
The secret behind the team’s successful Absa Premiership defence
“We won where it mattered most. I said to the players: ‘Let’s look at the names [of the remaining opponents] without any disrespect. We targeted wins over Free State Stars, Golden Arrows, Baroka FC and Black Leopards,” Mosimane reveals.
Downs won all of these games and, in defending the Premiership title, toppled Orlando Pirates at the summit of the table on the final day of the season.
“We’ve got five blocks of five games. We won four out of five all the time in the last blocks. We were also strong on the road.
“We also scored first in our games – and if Sundowns score first, forget a win for your team! We were able to hold our own against Al Ahly and Wydad Athletic; we had the tenacity and we knew how to hang in there.
“And, most importantly, our supporters were there for us.”
Mosimane won the coach of the season award at the 2018/2019 PSL Awards ceremony at the Durban International Convention Centre on May 19. Picture: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images
A congratulatory note from Fifa
Fifa president Gianni Infantino has joined other well-wishers in applauding Sundowns players who received PSL award nominations, and Mosimane for being one of the nominees for the Absa Premiership coach of the season gong. Mosimane eventually won the award.
The Italian wrote a letter to Safa’s president, Danny Jordaan, requesting that he “extend my congratulations to the players, the coach, the administration, the entire technical and medical staff, as well as the fans.
This is no doubt the result of effort and hard work, and everybody involved can be proud of this great achievement.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino
“On behalf of the international football community, I take this opportunity to thank Mamelodi Sundowns and your association for helping spread the positive message of football and foster the practice of this beautiful game that unites us all,” wrote Infantino from Zurich on Wednesday.
In the midst of all the tributes, it is the Absa Premiership cup that Mosimane and his men will drink from – as well as a hot cup of coffee in between.