Er­tuğral has the courage to keep Mar­itzburg in top flight

Mail & Guardian - - Sport - Luke Feltham

It’s sur­pris­ing just how lit­tle noise ac­com­pa­nied the ar­rival of Muhsin Er­tu­gral at Mar­itzburg United. Bar the an­nounce­ment ar­ti­cles, no one seemed too ea­ger to lift their heads from their Christ­mas slum­ber.

To many, this is a ship that has al­ready taken on too much wa­ter; who stands at the helm is purely in­ci­den­tal at this point even if the new skip­per is a main­stay of the Premier Soc­cer league (PSL). For the peo­ple of Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, how­ever, this is the coach that is tasked with keep­ing them afloat. The am­bi­tions of last sea­son have long been ban­ished and at­ten­tions are com­pletely fo­cused on stay­ing in the PSL.

“How mas­sive is it? The team has re­ally had their back to the wall but in the end there are four or five teams that are down there,” Er­tu­gral told the Mail & Guardian.

“I think they need to be a lit­tle bit more calm in the ap­proach so as not to get too much in the boys’ heads and find the con­fi­dence again as quick as pos­si­ble.

“We did not have pre­sea­son so your back is against the wall and you need to find a pos­si­bil­ity to get out.”

Since tak­ing over late in De­cem­ber, Er­tu­gral hasn’t held back from de­scrib­ing the sham­bles he’s in­her­ited. He un­der­stands that the hard work be­gins im­me­di­ately and even then it could be for nought un­less the cur­rent tra­jec­tory is bucked.

More than any­thing, he’s des­per­ate to sort out what has been a pa­thetic front­line. In the 14 games prior to his ar­rival, the Team of Choice could only find the back of the net five times — a re­turn that earned them one win. Even the record-break­ing Fadlu Davids could not sur­vive such a cringe­wor­thy tally.

Davids him­self be­gan the cam­paign backed into a corner af­ter the club’s man­age­ment failed to re­plen­ish a drained squad. Le­bo­hang Maboe’s in­evitable move to a big club hit hard and broad. His dis­plays in a Sun­downs shirt this sea­son have been a haunt­ing re­minder of the creative in­stinct no longer present at the Harry Gwala Sta­dium.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of Be­van Frans­man walk­ing out the door cer­tainly didn’t help mat­ters.

“Scor­ing five goals shows [there] is a very big prob­lem. It’s the en­tries that we’re look­ing into — I think we had triple the en­tries than in pre­vi­ous games,” Er­tu­gral said, re­fer­ring to his de­but loss against Golden Ar­rows at the week­end. “The en­tries are there and what we need to look into in my opin­ion is the fin­ish­ing form. We need to look into com­ing into the box with num­bers and find­ing the right en­tries.”

He would never ad­mit it, but it takes some brav­ery to even at­tempt the job Er­tu­gral has taken on. That game against Abafana Bes’thende was sig­nif­i­cant not only be­cause it was a first for him but also for op­po­site num­ber Steve Kom­phela at his new club. De­spite Bloem­fontein Celtic’s cel­e­brated start to the sea­son, the PSL’S favourite philoso­pher can­celled his stint early be­cause of com­plaints about in­ad­e­quate sup­port from man­age­ment. His res­ig­na­tion let­ter was dis­turb­ing, de­tail­ing how he was forced to han­dle me­nial tasks him­self, in­clud­ing ar­rang­ing player trans­port and even fix­ing the lawn mower.

It’s in­dica­tive of a broader si­phon­ing of coach power this sea­son. It’s not as though they’ve ever had it easy in this coun­try, but there’s a case to be made that the past few months have been par­tic­u­larly cruel to club man­age­ment. Damn­ingly, Kom­phela and Davids are part of a group of seven coaches who left their posts in De­cem­ber alone. The turnover may go some way to­wards ex­plain­ing the ap­point­ment of Er­tu­gral. In this time of change and fads, he comes as some­one with more than a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence in the league and has won too many tro­phies to list. As much as lead­ers such as Davids and Luc Ey­mael broke new ground, this is some­one proven in the gritty side of the game — the type of prag­matic strate­gist who could find a way to get that ship above wa­ter once more. Kaizer Chiefs have pos­si­bly done the same by re­plac­ing the gen­teel Gio­vanni Soli­nas with Ernst Mid­den­dorp. The other con­sid­er­a­tion is that, de­spite fail­ing to avoid rel­e­ga­tion with Ajax Cape Town in 2018, Er­tu­gral stuck around as long as he could in the Na­tional First Di­vi­sion. Frankly, Mar­itzburg could well be look­ing that far ahead and ap­pointed some­one that would be will­ing to take on a long-term project at square one again.

In­deed, much of the Turk’s lan­guage re­volves around build­ing some­thing in his own im­age: “Last year they had it and this year it seems to be a bit lost. You can­not fix it in five days, it is not pos­si­ble. The way the boys are re­spond­ing to it you can see a glimpse. But now the point is not putting too much in­for­ma­tion in their heads and put them into a sit­u­a­tion where they doubt them­selves. The qual­ity is there, that I do not doubt at all.”

Im­prove­ment is an ob­jec­tive hope: the sooner this team be­comes more him and less a mo­bile wreck, the bet­ter for any­one who has been forced to watch a United game this sea­son.

Le­bo­hang Maboe’s in­evitable move to a big club hit hard and the ex­pe­ri­ence of Ba­van Frans­man walk­ing out didn’t help mat­ters

Buck stops here: Muhsin Er­tuğral has his work cut out for him at goal­shy Mar­itzburg United, but is con­fi­dent he can coax the max­i­mum from what he be­lieves is a qual­ity team. Photo: Lefty Shivambu/gallo Im­ages

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