Da Gama does it all
With as much savvy in business as in coaching, young Bafana’s coach tells Daniel Mothowagae that he’s all about passion and principle
Owen Joao Cornelius Da Gama speaks Portuguese, Xitsonga and a bit of Tshivenda. City Press conducted a Q&A session with the respected coach to find out more. Tell us about your family. My grandfather is Portuguese and my grandmother is muTsonga. My family originates from Makhuvha village in Venda [outside Thohoyandou], but I grew up in Pretoria. This is where the connection came from and how I got my Portuguese names. My mother still lives on a farm in Venda and most of my friends are there.
I am the only son in a family of three children. I am married with three sons, but have four other children outside of my marriage. Your interests besides football? I have tried everything – from running cafés, a bakery outlet and a liquor store to selling cars and having a property business.
My love of coaching and passion for the game have taken me away from my businesses many times, but I still have business interests.
I am currently constructing a filling station. I also have shares in an IT company and I am involved in a project to open a computer school in Limpopo.
I run a number of businesses because I don’t want to be a desperate coach looking for a job and ending up sacrificing my principles. Some people call us ‘hungry coaches’ or ‘stomach coaches’ but I don’t sacrifice my beliefs. And when I am coaching, I focus fully, as I have other people looking after my businesses.
How does it feel to be only the second coach – after Shakes Mashaba – to guide a South African Under-23 team to the Olympics?
I wanted Olympic qualification so badly for the boys and the country. It was a call of duty, as I am serving my country. Coaching a national team is an opportunity coaches don’t get all the time.
It was not easy in Senegal [at the CAF Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations] trying to make 21 boys gel together in a team of 11. We worked so hard within a limited time. My hotel room in Senegal resembled an office because I spent so much time trying to understand the boys.
Tell us about your unusual nickname, ‘Rubber Doll’.
I got the nickname during my playing days at Pretoria Callies from late Pretoria News journalist Kenneth Lebethe. He used to write that I came off the ground like a ‘rubber doll’, referring to instances when I was fouled but jumped up without rolling over the ground, no matter how hard I was floored.
Did coaching come as a calling for you?
I started out as a player-coach at Durban Leeds United in the late 1980s. We reached the Bob Save Super Bowl Cup semifinal, where we lost to Orlando Pirates. I nearly quit coaching after a bad experience when I started full-time coaching in the early 1990s. Joseph Mapfulagasha [co-founder of Silver Stars, which was renamed Platinum Stars] convinced my late father to get me back into coaching. I have been blessed so far in my coaching career because of my passion.
WELL PLAYED From left to right: Abbubaker Mobara, Rivaldo Coetzee and Riyaad Norodien celebrate young Bafana’s third-place finish at the CAF Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations
MASTERMIND Owen Da Gama