Pi­rates’ goal­keeper co­nun­drum

New goal­keeper coach An­drew Sparkes talks about solv­ing Or­lando Pi­rates’ peren­nial prob­lem and his role in bring­ing sta­bil­ity be­tween the Bucs’ posts.

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Be­ing a foot­ball coach is most cer­tainly one of the tough­est jobs around, so it’s no won­der many peo­ple be­lieve coaches need to have played foot­ball at the high­est level to make it in the job. But that’s not al­ways the case. Some, such as Or­lando Pi­rates as­sis­tant coach Rhu­lani Mok­wena and former Baroka FC men­tor Sello Chokoe, are born to be coaches, not play­ers. They fall in love with the art of coach­ing at a young age and take to it like a duck to wa­ter. An­other man who is just like the two men­tioned above is the Buc­ca­neers’ goal­keeper coach An­drew Sparkes, who was ap­pointed dur­ing the off-sea­son as a re­place­ment for the de­parted Ivica Vuku­sic. After fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the Absa Premier­ship last sea­son un­der head coach Mi­cho Sre­do­je­vic, the Bucs are look­ing to go one bet­ter this sea­son and repli­cate their league suc­cess of 2012. This blink­ered tar­get goes some way in ex­plain­ing the rea­son­ing be­hind the change in their tech­ni­cal team, as they look to con­quer both lo­cally and con­ti­nen­tally this sea­son: Pi­rates will make a re­turn to the CAF Cham­pi­ons League for the first time since they lost the fi­nal to Egyp­tian gi­ants Al Ahly in 2013. Sparkes, who has held coach­ing sem­i­nars around the world, has worked mostly with ju­nior play­ers, de­vel­op­ing goal­keep­ers for the clubs that he has worked for in var­i­ous coun­tries. The Uefa A-Li­cenced goal­keeper coach has worked in the USA, Aus­tria and Wales, and also briefly worked for Sierra Leone dur­ing the 2014 Fifa World Cup qual­i­fiers. Hav­ing openly ad­mit­ted that Mok­wena

played a big role in bring­ing him to the PSL, Sparkes was then con­vinced that Pi­rates would be the per­fect place for him to progress in his ca­reer. “I am a Uefa A-Li­cenced goal­keeper coach, which is the high­est qual­i­fi­ca­tion pos­si­ble,” he starts. “I worked at New York Red Bulls for seven years, Red Bull Salzburg in Aus­tria for one year and Swansea City for six years. I have been for­tu­nate to have high-pro­file jobs at some high-pro­file clubs, where foot­ball or­gan­i­sa­tion is mas­sive.” Sparkes dis­misses the no­tion that one has to have played the beau­ti­ful game in or­der to coach it, cit­ing var­i­ous other coaches who were not pro­fes­sional play­ers in their ear­lier years. “I played when I was a young­ster, but noth­ing se­ri­ous,” he says. “I played part-time when I was in the Welsh league when I was 19 or 20. I was given a coach­ing op­por­tu­nity at Swansea, work­ing with the younger goal­keep­ers. That was my in­tro­duc­tion into coach­ing, and where I found a real pas­sion for it and where I de­vel­oped my ed­u­ca­tion as a goal­keeper coach. “Look at some of the top goal­keeper coaches around the world … you have Luis Llopis who was at Real Madrid – he never played pro­fes­sion­ally. Javi Gar­cia who is at Arse­nal never played pro­fes­sional foot­ball. There are count­less goal­keeper coaches who never played pro­fes­sion­ally. And it’s the same in my case. “But I think we have the ben­e­fit of study­ing the game, much like coach Rhu­lani. He has done a lot of study­ing of the game and he has learnt the method­ol­ogy. I have been do­ing this for 12 to 15 years and I have worked with very good goal­keep­ers from academies, and first team goal­keep­ers like Michel Vorm [of Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur] and Lukas Fabi­anksi [ West Ham]. That’s the kind of thing you get with ex­pe­ri­ence. Whether you’ve played pro­fes­sion­ally or not, at the end of the day you need to pro­duce play­ers and per­for­mances. If you played pro­fes­sion­ally, it does not re­ally mat­ter.”

Huge ask

From work­ing with young play­ers, Sparkes now has the big task of work­ing with Pi­rates’ first team goal­keep­ers in Bril­liant Khuzwayo, Jack­son Mabokg­wane, Wayne Sandi­lands and Siyabonga Mpontshane – four ex­pe­ri­enced shot-stop­pers who have all rep­re­sented the se­nior na­tional team at some point or other in their ca­reers. The goal­keep­ing depart­ment has been a con­cern for the Soweto gi­ants since the de­par­ture of Moeneeb Josephs and the tragic pass­ing of Senzo Meyiwa. Brighton Mh­longo, now in the colours of Bid­vest Wits, was seen as some­one who could take the op­por­tu­nity given to him fol­low­ing the death of Meyiwa, but he was un­able to prove him­self as the Bucs’ long term num­ber one. Last sea­son Sandi­lands, Mabokg­wane and Mpontshane all got a chance to play, yet nei­ther as­serted them­selves nor looked con­vinc­ing enough to make the po­si­tion their own. Yet Sparkes is ready for the task given to him by the Soweto gi­ants in sort­ing out the goal­keep­ing scram­ble be­tween the sticks. “I have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in de­vel­op­ing goal­keep­ers, in the play­ing style which is so mas­sive for the club,” he says. “For me it’s just an­other jour­ney and I want to make the team t suc­cess­ful and make the goal­keep­ers suc­cess­ful. We’ll make the team com­pete in all the t com­pe­ti­tions we will be in this year. “This is prob­a­bly my big­gest role in terms of o a club and what it means to the sup­port­ers. Pi­rates is a mas­sive brand that even peo­ple in the UK have heard of. I am very pleased to be here.”

Stiff com­pe­ti­tion

Com­pe­ti­tion for the num­ber one jersey will w be tighter than ever fol­low­ing the ac­qui­si­tion a of Khuzwayo. Hav­ing four ex­pe­ri­enced e goal­keep­ers could tempt coaches c to give each of them a chance to prove them­selves on dif­fer­ent match days, but Sparkes is a fan of hav­ing a con­sis­tent num­ber one be­tween the sticks. “To be fair, I don’t think you are go­ing to get g a bet­ter group of goal­keep­ers in the PSL, or o in any club where you have such a high cal­i­bre c of goal­keep­ers,” he says. “Nor­mally you have an out­right num­ber one and then you have a drop-off after that. “We have four top goal­keep­ers who want w to play in the PSL. For me it’s healthy com­pe­ti­tion. c From what I have seen there’s a lot of hard work go­ing in. The at­ti­tude and ap­pli­ca­tion has been fan­tas­tic. I am ex­cited to see who wants to take that num­ber one spot be­cause last sea­son all three goal­keep­ers played be­tween 10-15 games. “I want some­one who wants to play week in and week out, who wants the num­ber one jersey and can keep hold of it. That’s im­por­tant for me. There’s lots of games this sea­son, but we need some­one who can step up and say, ‘I want to be the num­ber one goal­keeper’. That per­son should want to play as many games as pos­si­ble. “For the last three years, I think Lukasz Fabi­an­ski missed only two or three league games for Swansea – that’s con­sis­tency. You look at the top clubs and top goal­keep­ers in the Premier League, they play week in and week out. “In cup com­pe­ti­tions all around the world, it’s im­por­tant for the other goal­keep­ers to

get a chance, but it’s im­por­tant to have that con­sis­tency for the re­la­tion­ship with the back four, that there’s no chop­ping and chang­ing all the time. I am re­ally in­trigued to see who will step up.” With new sign­ing Khuzwayo out in­jured, Sandi­lands was trusted with the gloves for the first game of the sea­son against High­lands Park, yet a hor­ren­dous er­ror in fail­ing to clear a rou­tine back-pass which re­sulted in a goal saw him lose his po­si­tion be­tween the sticks, with Mpontshane tak­ing his place. The 32-year-old kept two clean sheets and con­ceded four goals in five games there­after, while team­mate Mabokg­wane, who last took to the field for The Bucs in Fe­bru­ary, is yet to play.

Mod­ern phi­los­o­phy

Sparkes is part of the new gen­er­a­tion coaches who are ve­he­mently against goal­keep­ers hoof­ing the ball for­ward when in trou­ble. He wants a goal­keeper who can keep it to­gether un­der pres­sure, con­trol the ball and pass it to a team­mate who is open. This is an at­tribute Manch­ester City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola de­mands from his goal­keep­ers, and some­thing Joe Hart could not grasp, which is why the club let him go. City now have Brazil­ian shot-stop­per Eder­sen who is more than com­fort­able on the ball as their num­ber one, with Sparkes hop­ing for some­thing sim­i­lar from the play­ers in his goal­keep­ing depart­ment. “I think Pi­rates wanted a coach who could match their game model,” he says. “The phi­los­o­phy I worked un­der and im­ple­mented at the clubs I worked for is to de­velop goal­keep­ers who are com­fort­able with the ball at their feet and who can fit into the game model. The club there­fore had me in mind and I am very happy about that.” Not known to many is the fact that this is not the first time Sparkes has landed up in South Africa. He was in the coun­try with Swansea City for the renowned Un­der-19 Bay­hill Cup tour­na­ment which has un­earthed some of the coun­try’s finest tal­ent. “I had been to Cape Town twice, in 2015 and 2016, for the Bay­hill Cup with Swansea City,” he re­veals. “So when I got the call to come to Pi­rates, I al­ready knew a lot about the South African foot­ball land­scape in terms of the foot­ball. “When I was in Cape Town, we played the ju­nior teams, but we got to know more about the PSL and the coun­try, and I knew some of the top play­ers and ob­vi­ously the [PSL] brand. Hav­ing that in­sight made it eas­ier for me to make my de­ci­sion to move here.”

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