Chippa United head coach Morgan Mammila’s recent comments on Mamelodi Sundowns, ahead of the two teams’ league clash last Tuesday, were blown out of proportion and completely misunderstood by many a football supporter! The comments created a lot of traffic on social media and it became clear that not everyone fully understood where the coach was coming from.
For the uninitiated, this is what the former Baroka FC Chief Executive Officer said about the Chloorkop-based side: “Sundowns are a simple team to play against. It’s very simple, as even a MDC player could tell you how Sundowns play.”
“They are a very easy team to play against, and plan against. But the only difference is they are mastering their system, that’s the only difference...”
“It’s because of the system that they are playing. I don’t even need to do video sessions when facing Sundowns. All my players know how Sundowns play. Let’s be honest, go and check Sundowns when they lose the ball, there is no star player. All of them chase after the ball, and when they get the ball, all of them are opening up.”
“Then go and check the 15 teams in the league, are they doing what Sundowns are doing? I am afraid, the answer is no. You find the striker not even chasing. Go and watch Sundowns, strikers mark from the top – that’s the difference,” concluded the former Chippa General Manager.
To a lot of people, there seemed to be a hint of taking a dig at or undermining Sundowns from coach Mammila, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He just couldn’t have said it any better because, truth be told, that’s the only difference between Sundowns and the other 15 teams. If you go player-for-player against Sundowns with several PSL teams, there isn’t much of a difference in terms of quality. More importantly, if you look at the difference between most Sundowns players before they joined and after they started playing at the club, you will notice a massive improvement. It is crystal clear to see that players improve at Sundowns and that’s credit to the work done behind the scenes because no player joins Sundowns and remains the same. The day and night difference, as coach Mammila rightly pointed out, is Sundowns’ philosophy, identity and system of play. On this platform, it has been mentioned on numerous occasions that Sundowns deal with positional profiles rather than individual players. They recruit according to their identity rather than going after every promising individual talent. When you take six players out of Sundowns’ starting line-up and put in new faces, the fluidity and style of play remains the same because they have a system and culture that they abide by. Can the same be said about other teams? You take just two players out of the starting line-up and the whole team crumbles and looks completely different.
It is also disingenuous to simply attribute the team’s dominance to their financial muscle. Dr. Patrice Motsepe took over the ownership of the club almost 20 years ago, so the open chequebook is nothing new at the club, yet they only started dominating the local football front in the last six or so seasons. This goes to prove that money isn’t everything. The same Sundowns had big-name coaches, who came highly recommended with a huge reputation and CVs than the current coaches. What did they achieve, with the blank chequebook? They left with their tails between their legs. Hristo Stoichkov, Antonio Lopez Habas, Johan Neeskens and the late Henri Michel are just some of the headline-grabbing names that came and left with very little to write home about during their coaching stints at the Brazilians. We’ve also seen bigger and better players than the current team, come to Sundowns and leave with not as much success or even impact. So, to downplay and reduce the top job done by the current technical team and everyone associated with Sundowns to being just about the money is simply being dishonest and unfair.
Just like coach Mammila said, everyone knows how Sundowns play and we all know what to expect from them. You’re not going to get Sundowns parking the bus just because they are desperate to win. You’re not going to score two goals against them and think they are going to sit back, plug the holes and prevent the score from getting worse. They will continue to play their normal game and try to score four, without uncharacteristically playing long balls! They are an open book, everyone knows them, but the problem is that not everyone is as organised as they are. Not everyone pays attention to detail, like they do, which means it is not their problem that people aren’t catching up with them despite their blueprint being so obvious. Coach Mammila was completely misunderstood by those who felt he was being disrespectful and undermining towards Sundowns. He was simply telling it like it is. He broke it down so meticulously and made a lot of sense if you listened “carefully”. These are the simple things that people don’t pay attention to and they therefore miss them, as simple and obvious as they are. He meant no disrespect; if anything, he proved that he’s following football and knows what he’s doing at the Gqeberha-based club.
His comments summarized the difference between Sundowns and others. He couldn’t have said it better because he hit the nail on the head. It is not about the quality of players or money but the attention to detail and players knowing what to do, when to do it and how to go about it. When the coaches know what they want, it is easy for them to demonstrate the information to the players. Let us not downplay the hard work done by the technical team and everyone at Sundowns as just the fruits of having a blank cheque. Sundowns have scouts that profile players before they are even brought to the club, which is why you seldom hear of any trialists at the club. They also have people who are keeping a close eye on their players on loan at different clubs. They have development coaches, local, continental and international scouts and when you put all these different roles together, it is easy to ensure that everything is aligned to the club’s DNA. That’s why it is easy for Sundowns to bring in a new signing and they make an immediate impact because there’s very little that they still need to adapt to, unlike players joining other teams and needing almost the whole season to ‘find their feet’ in a completely new environment, philosophy and playing style. That’s like fruit salad, but if you have players with similar characteristics, it becomes easy to merge them into one formidable team. It takes a lot of hard work because it is not easy to do or manage.
This is a process that can only be achieved when you give your technical team complete control in their own team, instead of them having players signed for them. No one should downplay the job done so well by Sundowns’ technical team and reduce it to just them having more money than everyone else. Coach Mammila was just completely misunderstood because nothing he said was wrong in any way.