Kick Off

The best of his generation?


It is clear for all to see that Mamelodi Sundowns are reaping the rewards of having kept their faith in experience­d Andile Jali even when they were not getting the best out of him following his return from Belgium. KICK OFF’s Lovemore Moyo looks at how the midfielder has turned his fortunes around after a difficult start in Chloorkop.

The decision by Pitso Mosimane to bring Andile Jali to Mamelodi Sundowns generated doubts upon the completion of his first season at Chloorkop, back in the Premier Soccer League after a four-year stay at Belgian club KVV Oostende.

There was the feeling that Jali would never reach the level he attained at Orlando Pirates, when he made bossing the midfield such a habit through Pirates’ best years of the PSL era when they won six trophies in two seasons.

Jail only played eight full matches in his first campaign at Sundowns, something that raised many eyebrows.

But his coach at the time, Mosimane, wasn’t bothered by the critics who felt the midfielder was only back in South Africa to enjoy the fat paycheque he was on at the club.

Jail’s response was emphatic, playing from start to end in all the 10 CAF Champions’ League games before rolling up his sleeves to play in another 26 games on the domestic scene.

He went on with the same pace even when Mosimane was gone last term and based on his start to the new campaign, he will blow the roof this season if he can stay fit.

“The reality is that we have run out of superlativ­es to describe AJ’s [Jali’s] performanc­es,” says Sundowns co-coach Rhulani Mokwena.

This is what Mosimane has always said about Jali, and it was the same with Rudi Krol, Julio Leal, Augusto Palacios and Roger de Sa at Pirates.

“Andile has been incredible. He gives us not just the personalit­y in relation to the leadership, but the courage as well,” Mokwena says.

“It is very easy to be a leader in good moments. But AJ is a leader even in difficult times and he is not afraid to stand up and be counted, and those are the type of people you need in your change room.

“Those are also the kind of players you need on the pitch because when the going

gets tough, Andile is always the first to raise his hand and the first to face the bullets. We are fortunate that he has been exceptiona­l and is a top player and an incredible human being.

“He is easy to coach and very committed, with a winning attitude. We are very fortunate,” Mokwena says.

“The one thing that makes AJ stand head and shoulders above everyone else is his courage and determinat­ion. He is a top soldier, and you can go to war with AJ at any time.”

‘You would think of him as being lazy’

Jali has left an impression on every pitch he has played on, just like every club he has played for speaks highly of him.

Born in Matatiele, he played for Matatiele Hotspurs and Matatiele Profession­als in the lower divisions as a schoolboy before being snapped up by University of Pretoria after being spotted at the Coca-Coca Football Stars talent recruitmen­t programme in 2007.


At AmaTuks he needed neither any favours nor time to establish himself, breaking into the National First Division team right away under Sammy Troughton.

Zambian defender Davis Nkausu was the captain of the team at the time, leading players such as Manti Moholo (Mekoa), Warren Bishop, Marc van Heerden, Mthokozisi Yende, Phenyo Mongala, Masibusane Zongo, George Maluleka, Dumisani Masilela, Clifford Mulenga and Aubrey Ngoma.

“You could already see that he was going to become something big the moment he ran onto the field and touched the ball,” remembers Nkausu.

“He would make sure that whoever

he was playing against would feel his presence by knowing that he is here. He never shied away from making all the noise in midfield.

“He was serious at training all the time, even though when you looked at his demeanour outside the pitch, you would think of him as being lazy. Yet once on the field the mentality would change into beast mode. This is what I still see of him now at Sundowns.

“He was meant to have followed me to SuperSport United, but I don’t know what happened. I’m not one to judge players for what happens outside the field.

“We all have lives to live, and we live differentl­y. Even when he came back [to the PSL], so much was said about him struggling, but what was forgotten was that he was injured and then needed to readjust to the crazy world of the PSL after being in Europe.

“These are the factors which played a part in slowing him down. I know people would say he needs no readjustin­g because he played here before but what needs to be understood is that when you have been in Europe and come back, you are just like a new player.

“The PSL is an unforgivin­g league which takes no prisoners with so many new players always coming in and wanting to prove themselves.

“Let us not forget that he was also joining a team that was already winning, so that meant he had to work even harder to get into the team. People might say he is now getting back to the Jali that we saw at Pirates, but I feel the maturity factor has peaked and he is using the experience to good effect, unlike at Pirates where he was a bit reckless at times in the way he played.

“Now he can position himself well and uses his aggression in the right areas and not wasting his energy all over. At Pirates he was everywhere but now he reserves the energy. He reads the game better than he did in his younger years and the penalty he took in the MTN8 final is proof of that.

“The younger Jali was about energy but this one now is about maturity,” analyses Nkausu.

‘He has this sense of arrogance’

Former AmaTuks assistant coach Sly Mosala is forthright when talking about Jali.

“There is just one word that made him what he is and continues to make him what he is now. It is being arrogant on the field,” says Mosala.

“He has this sense of arrogance that works for him in that it makes him be a good player. The kind of arrogance that pushes you and drives you to do things. It is that arrogance that has got him to where he is today and being able to survive up to this day.

“That sense of bravery and having no fear will keep him in the game longer. You can imagine how many players disappeare­d because of not having the kind of drive that Andile has in him. That belief that he can do it is working the magic for him.

“It is not the arrogance of disrespect­ing because he is a good man who respects people but when he gets onto the field, he has this unique drive. The moment he is on the field you can see that he is not scared of doing anything.

“The push he has in him is what will make him stay longer in football. I met him at AmaTuks when he was still developing but we realised that he was destined for the bigger stage when we reached the final of the 2009 Nedbank Cup.

“This arrogance is something that he probably grew up with where he comes from and just doesn’t like the thought of being overawed by someone else. There is no fear in him. He can’t be intimidate­d by anyone on the field.

“I think he can play until he is 39 because of the drive that he carries in himself. As a coach those are the players that you want. I like fighters,” says Mosala.

“He is getting better and better now. His quality is not even in doubt a bit. With him getting better I don’t know whether it is because of maturity or that he is around quality players at Sundowns.

“We all know that Sundowns has quality, and their success proves it. Fact is that


when you play with better players you also become a better player. I’m tempted to feel that in his case it is maturity because with some players, when they get older their qualities become clear and benefit the team even more.

“Hlompho Kekana became better as he got older and so I think now that Jali is a senior player around quality players at Sundowns, it is showing,” he adds.

What makes Jali different

Such is the tale of players struggling upon their return from Europe that the list is endless.

Retired Nigerian midfielder Onyekachi Okonkwo fits into those numbers having made a huge impression before heading to Switzerlan­d, only to return a while later.

Jali, who played with Okonkwo for a season at Pirates, faced similar fears.

“I feel some players relax a bit because they think they have made enough money, so they are not motivated enough to play for what they are playing for now. When I came back, I really wanted to play but

I was struggling with fitness and injury concerns, and not getting enough game time affected me. It was not easy,” notes Okonkwo.

“He [Jali] was my junior at Pirates but an aggressive player who made it a point that he is felt in the team when he plays. I think the way he pushed back then is not the same way he is pushing now after coming back from Europe.

“The challenges that happen when you come back from Europe are normal because you come back older to play in a physical space where you are also trying to avoid injuries.”

As Jali gets down to business, another man who played for Sundowns, went abroad and then came back to struggle has been watching with interest.

“When Jali came back the assumption was that he is struggling, yet it wasn’t even anything close to that, but it was more about getting to grips with the change of playing at home,” argues Bennett Mnguni.

“South African football and its demands are different to what you get abroad, and you need to adjust when you come back. Jali is still playing the same football but now doing so with a lot of knowledge. Even when he covers spaces, he does so more than the way he used to because of the experience that he has now.

“The trouble is that people’s mindsets are tilted towards negativity first before they appreciate the positive. The expectatio­n was to see Jali running all over the place like he used to, forgetting that playing football is also dependant on what the coach wants along with the freedom and space that he gives you.

“Jali is playing according to the system and that is a sensitive matter because Sundowns plays to a certain direction. It is not about Jali playing the way he wants but rather the system which the team plays.

“You cannot expect him to be overcookin­g and doing more, which affects the functional­ity of the team, therefore putting him at risk of not continuing to play.

“From the outside we are quick to say this is not the player that we know, forgetting that the coach gives instructio­ns, and you follow as the player. With Hlompho in the team, Jali had to play as a destroyer, which limited him. But now he is taking control and command as he has room to play.

“This is why he is more visible now and people are realising how much of a role he is having in the team. In most situations you now find him involved in moving the ball across all areas of the field. He is enjoying the benefits of freedom.

“You can feel his presence now because he also passes and supports whenever he has the ball, unlike before when he would pass and stand. Sundowns is now able to get into play using him, destroy using him and provide defensive cover using him as well,” says Mnguni.


Following another coaching change at Orlando Pirates with Josef Zinnbauer making way for the caretaker duo of Fadlu Davids and Mandla Ncikazi, questions have been asked about how long it will take The Buccaneers to come good again. . Will it be this season, the season after or even further into the future? KICK OFF’s Lovemore Moyo investigat­es.

The basis upon which coaches are judged in football is always results, but sometimes also silverware depending on the profile of the club. After Orlando Pirates decided to throw the dice yet again with co-coaches Mandla Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids replacing Josef Zinnbauer, there will have been hope of an upward trajectory for the side, but it has yet to materialis­e.

The role taken by Ncikazi when he joined from Lamontvill­e Golden Arrows at the start of the season was never clarified, except for the club to state that he was joining to become a member of the technical team.

It only gave weight to the fact that Zinnbauer’s days were numbered, and it came as no surprise when the German was gone before the first league game was played.

With a third of the season completed, only 14 points were achieved from the opening 10 games, which ranks amongst the slowest starts to a new season based for The Buccaneers and not any better than what Zinnbauer achieved at the start of his only full season.

There are a number of reasons for the slow start, which includes injuries with a long list of influentia­l players amongst those sidelined, including Happy Jele, Thembinkos­i Lorch, Innocent Maela and Richard Ofori, who have all been unavailabl­e for parts of the season.

“The circumstan­ces that we face at Orlando Pirates determine that we should use the players that we are using currently and with respect to them, they have not disappoint­ed considerin­g that some of them have not played for quite some time,” Ncikazi told KICK OFF after the 2-1 Soweto Derby loss to Kaizer Chiefs.

“It is a work in progress and I just hope that at some point we can be a team that has a consistent line-up and only when there is a

need then we change.

“With the challenges that we have faced, we have accepted [their bad luck], and acceptance is the first stage of improvemen­t. We have accepted that we are where we are and can only get better going forward, rather than moaning and trying to change what we can’t change.

“Everything that has happened around our team needs to stop at some point, but we will control the controllab­le as beggars cannot be choosers.”

‘I love using youngsters’

The situation of injuries and off-field discipline matters related to Ben Motshwari and Gabadinho Mhango have pushed the coaches in the direction of the youth.

This has prompted the selection of youngsters such as Boitumelo Radiopane, Thabiso Monyane and Simiso Bophela.

Though embracing those coming up the ranks, Ncikazi is also cautious.

“My general feeling is that I’m a developmen­t coach who has been promoted into the position that I’m in now. I love using youngsters. I love using new players,” he says.

“I don’t believe in the recycled panel of players, though when you bring something new you must do that and win. There are quite a few youngsters at Pirates that we


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