Kaitano Tembo can blaze a trail for Zimbabwean coaches in SA
Kaitano Tembo's elevation to the role of permanent head coach of Premier Soccer League side SuperSport United presents another opportunity for a Zimbabwean tactician to crack it in the South African league.
A number of Zimbabwean coaches have attempted it in the past with very mixed success, the last being Joey Antipas, who did not last long at then National First Division side AmaZulu.
Roy Barreto won the league with Orlando Pirates in the 2002/03 season but left months into the next campaign after a poor start.
Ex-Zimbabwe national team goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar coached Seven Stars, SuperSport (two spells), Hellenic, Umtata Bush Bucks and Manning Rangers, but also found little joy bar some success with Matsatsantsa.
Current Zimbabwe national team tactician Sunday Chidzambwa had spells with Bush Bucks, Free State Stars and Black Leopards, but was never able to convince.
Ian Gorowa was hailed for his work as an assistant coach at Ajax Cape Town, but failed when given the top job with Moroka Swallows, while Shepherd Murape was in charge of a number of sides, including Pirates.
It all points to a rather patchy history for Zimbabwean coaches in South Africa, with more lows than highs, but Tembo has a real chance to change that at a club he knows inside out having been first a player and then part of the coaching structures for the last 19 years.
He was handed temporary charge of the side when former head coach Eric Tinkler quit in March and took them from serious relegation trouble into the top eight. It is that turnaround that has led to the club making his role permanent.
Tembo says for him there is no added pressure to succeed as he feels it all the time in whatever role he plays.
"With our jobs there is always pressure, I have been in charge for the last seven [league] matches of last season. It has been pressure since I took over because we also could have got relegated. So for me it is pressure all the way. But I can take it," Tembo told reporters.
"Now we are starting [this season] with a clean slate where we can try and bounce back. It is a different feel to last season when games were running out and we needed points.
"We are past that. If you look at us towards the end of last season, we only lost one game out of seven. We haven't been doing badly, if we can just build on that."
SuperSport are one of the clubs in the top-flight that invests heavily in player resources and for that reason expectations are always high. They have been less active in this transfer window, but that does not mean they do not expect success, something Tembo is well aware of.
"Last season we left it too late, even though some might say we did well in finishing seventh [in the league], winning the MTN8 and getting to the final of the Confederation Cup," he asserted.
"For me it was not such a bad season, but we want to be challenging for the top three and do better in the league. That is our target, without anybody [management] mentioning it. It is standard for this club."
Tembo's permanent tenure started on Saturday with a disappointing 2-0 loss to Cape Town City, though to be fair not many sides come to the Mother City and get joy against Benni McCarthy's men.
SuperSport showed flashes of quality and the general feeling is they will be okay this season, with a good mix of the young and the old in their squad. Blending these two will be the major task for Tembo this season, but with so few new arrivals there has at least been good continuity.
Substitutes from Saturday, Fagrie Lakay and Englishman James Keene, epitomise this clash of young and old, and Tembo says they will add further to the squad if the right players become available before the end of the window on August 31.
"We are still looking to add some players in certain positions, especially defensively. But we will take our time and give the ones around a few chances and then take it from there."
The side has been criticised for being a bit stale last season, easy to read and plot against. Tembo is aware of this. "We have to be more adventurous, especially at home," he admitted.
Next up for Matsatsantsa is a home clash with AmaZulu on Wednesday, a fixture that Tembo will know is already looking like a 'must-win' to set the tone for the campaign.