The axed coach gives his views on the inner workings at Orlando Pirates, and shares his thoughts on South African football
“When I Was at PIrates, I saW the Players’ cars, they Were defInItely bIgger than mIne.”
Former Orlando Pirates coach Kjell Jonevret only spent a few months with the Soweto giants before resigning ahead of the new season. In this interview with Kick Off’s Peter du Toit and Zola Doda, the Swede opens up about his time in South Africa and how the local league is better organised than he thought. KICK OFF: Kjell, you did an interview with our sister publication Soccer Laduma recently where you spoke about your time at Orlando Pirates. Now let’s talk about other important issues. As a foreign coach, what did you make of South African football?
Kjell Jonevret: I think ten or fifteen years ago – maybe I’m wrong – South African players seemed more hungry to get to Europe. I remember when I brought in Lance Davids and Siyabonga Nomvethe, and we also tried really, really hard to get Benedict Vilakazi, the small guy! There were lots of South African players around Europe in smaller countries, but also bigger leagues. Maybe the League [PSL] has grown: I heard it is the tenth or the eleventh biggest league in the world right now economically.
What has grown is the players’ salaries, compared to those days …
Ja, so maybe they are a little bit satisfied to stay here. If they play for a bigger club in South Africa it could be enough. When I was at Pirates, I saw the players’ cars, they were definitely bigger than mine [laughs]. Maybe now they are happy to remain here. Another problem could be that when we start working with players in our academies back home, they start working at school when they are 15 or 16 years old. Even if they play for different clubs, there are still football classes at school. They start learning things and when they get to 18 or 19 years old, they are well educated on how to behave, what to eat and if you have success, which way to go. And that’s a problem here. It’s natural, maybe because they are from very different backgrounds. For example, Thembinkosi Lorch is a fantastic talent, but I think I was almost his first real coach, with all due respect to his former coaches. You have to start at a different level. When players are 18 or 19 years old, you bring them in to the first team squad. But here you bring them in when they are 23, 24 or 25 and that is too late. We had trials for our Diski Challenge team and the players were 18 to 22 years old – that is too late. Players in the MDC should be 16 to 19, and if they are a big talent, then they should be in the first team.
The MDC is basically our reserve league, and the players’ average age is between 20 and 23 …
I feel South Africa can do more at academy level – you need to work with them when they are a little bit younger. Another problem for me at Pirates was that I had 38 players in the squad and that was impossible. Sometimes we would play 11 versus 11 and
there would be another 11 watching on the sidelines. You can’t have it like that. Most clubs have 23 to 24 players plus two to three youngsters — that’s the way to do it. That way, you can use three to four MDC players every week. But if I already have 38 players, then it’s not possible for me to bring in other young players. We talked about it during my first meeting here. Pirates have an okay academy. They told me our job is not to develop and sell players, we buy players. For me that’s a little strange because we cannot afford to do that in Europe. When I coached overseas I had so many African players … ten years ago I had three guys from Senegal and one of them is now at Stoke City in the EPL – he played at Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga for a while. That’s the fun thing, to bring players in when they are young. They are so thirsty to be developed. You are not that hungry when you are 23 or 24, you have to take them in earlier.
FC Leipzig in the Bundesliga won’t even sign a professional over the age of 23 because the enthusiasm at the younger age is greater than the age of 29 and 30 ...
Ja absolutely. But it’s also not easy because sometimes you can’t find players who are 18 or 19.
What did you think of the standard of the PSL versus …
[Cuts in] It’s always difficult to say. I have been down here with Scandinavian teams on pre-season and mid-season breaks. We played Mamelodi Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town a few times and they were always tough games. I know they probably didn’t play the first team, but if I have to compare it with big Leagues in Europe, there is lots of talent here.
What areas of weaknesses do you see in our football?
I spoke to Stuart Baxter about this. You hear stories that in Africa they are not well organised. I remember a Nigerian player at my last club in Norway used to say, ‘Coach, we are not used to running when we don’t have the ball. We run when we have the ball’. But I found that in the PSL that is not true. Stuart said, ‘ They want to be organised’. When you look at matches, there are lots of 0-0 draws because of good defending. PSL teams are well organised defensively, better than I thought they would be. I thought that would be the problem, but it wasn’t.
The joke is that the defence has become our strength, but we are not as creative as we used to be …
That was my thinking when I got here, that we should try to stabilise Pirates’ defence a little bit. And it was simple to get them to play normal zonal defence, it was simple to do that. Yet, after two to three weeks, we saw that it was not the defence that was the problem. Instead we found we needed better offensive players. I also think the better offensive players are the ones I worked with at home. I think the offensive play is a problem as most clubs are better organised defensively.
Is it the PSL coaches who are too defensive in South African football?
If you saw Bidvest Wits last season, they were really good in defence. They didn’t win by more than a one-goal margin, maybe more sometimes. But when they were in the lead they were difficult to beat because they played
tight and were very difficult to break down.
Same with Cape Town City and SuperSport United under Stuart Baxter. Even Sundowns were a counter-attacking team …
And those were not my thoughts when I arrived. I thought that players were more like the African players I worked with in Scandinavia, and that the PSL would be more attacking in style …
That’s the biggest change we see in South African football. We were an offensive-minded nation with a weakness for defending. It seems like we have over-compensated from a defensive point of view, which is understandable because there is so much pressure in the game on a coach to win and coaches are getting fired left, right and centre …
That’s the important thing. It’s important that you do your work and if that is not in line with the club, it’s better to go. You can’t just work to save your job, then you will not do a good job. If you have an idea about how you want your team to play football, then go that way.
In South African football, a lot of coaches are coaching not to lose their jobs. You have teams trying to win on percentage rather than going all out to play positive attractive football.
That’s also a problem. If Pirates had been a little bit clearer about this and what they expected from me, that could have been a different situation for me at the club. Clubs back home have a manual on how the team should play. If you accept it, you will be the coach and if you can’t do it, then you can’t coach that team. The clubs must be clear about what type of football they want. Is it important to win or is it
“THEMBINKOSI LORCH IS A FANTASTIC TALENT, BUT I THINK I WAS ALMOST HIS FIRST REAL COACH.”
important for the supporters to love to watch the way the team plays? All clubs can’t win the league, but you can play some fun football and often that is enough for supporters.
That is a weakness of South African football because only one team can win the league, but certainly the majority can play attractive and positive football.
Yes, and there are good footballers in the PSL. I have seen many fantastic football matches since I arrived in this country. Now with the national team, they had a good start. That is also important because you have to have the national team doing well.
The problem is our biggest asset is our biggest weakness in the PSL. There is so much money in the game that it actually stops the progress of players going overseas to better themselves, but that is life. From the organisational point of view, how did you find South African football, both on and off the field?
It’s very different from club to club. At Orlando Pirates, they don’t miss anything, they are very good. The only problem was we didn’t train at the same place so I never saw the youngsters. I never saw them and never talked to them and that was a weakness. If you have a training ground that is two to three pitches close to each other, you could be more like a family.
What is the difference between supporters in Sweden and South Africa?
In Stockholm, there are more fights. People here go to football matches and do all the singing, and do it to forget something. For a few hours, they don’t have to think about problems at home and that is the difference. In Sweden people are okay, they have jobs and houses and go to football for different reasons.
ABOVE: Jonevret and his Pirates charges during a Pirates media day at FNB Stadium in June. BELOW: Jonevret leaves the pitch after Pirates’ 1-0 Nedbank Cup semi-final victory over Golden Arrows in May.