If you find it perplexing that Johan Neeskens still has a job at Mamelodi Sundowns, you’re not alone. From the moment his men blew a healthy lead at the top of the Absa Premiership to sink to a disappointing fifth place last season, Neeskens’ future has been a subject of speculation.
That speculation heightened following Sundowns’ Nedbank Cup final defeat to SuperSport United on the last day of last season, with many suspecting the Dutchman would be told not to come back for the new term.
Sundowns owner Patrice Motsepe can only back Johan Neeskens for so long. Credit: Gallo Images
Yet he returned amid high expectations, and started the season with a bang in that fortuitous 4-1 drubbing of Kaizer Chiefs in the MTN8.
It has been downhill for Neeskens and the club since, and the uncertainty that surrounded him towards the end of last season has intensified with every passing week. Recently, only Sundowns’ great run in the Telkom Knockout has managed to spare Neeskens’ blushes, perhaps the club’s management fearing the rebuke they would receive should they sack a man who has reached his second successive cup final.
But the Brazilians’ pathetic league – and general disoriented play – illustrates that Neeskens is very fortunate to continue to draw a salary at the highest-paying club in the country.
Sundowns remain rooted at the bottom of the standings, having not won a league match since the opening day victory over Chippa United. They have scored just six goals in 11 matches and, most astonishingly, have not managed to score more than once in any league game.
Mentioning relegation in the same sentence as Sundowns is currently seen as a joke, but such is their terrible form that it certainly can no longer merely be classified as banter. A record of one win in 11 games is serious recipe for the chop, and the biggest danger comes from the fact that Sundowns do not look like they can stop the rot.
Among the teams that Sundowns failed to beat this season are fellow strugglers AmaZulu, Ajax Cape Town and Golden Arrows, while the likes of Maritzburg United and Platinum Stars could not believe their luck when they travelled to Tshwane and returned with maximum points.
Yet listening to Neeskens in post-match interviews, you would think Sundowns are at the other end of the table, sitting comfortably with no relegation trouble to worry about. The Dutchman remains as brash as ever, hardly finding fault with his own tactics and diverting blame mainly to his players.
Motsepe, meanwhile, has conspicuously remained silent as his team plummet new depths. But the fact is inaction is unlikely to help a situation which clearly is unsustainable.
Fans have launched protests, some so violent that they ended in arrest, but seemingly no one in the Sundowns hierarchy views the situation as a crisis. The truth, though, is that something drastic has to happen to dig Sundowns out of the rut.
Motsepe should be commended for standing by Neeskens, but he can only back him for so long. While hooligans urged the Sundowns president to act as early as the first week of September following the home loss to Maritzburg, Motsepe has dug himself into a hole trying to dispel the notion of being trigger-happy and intolerant.
I’m certain commentary which depicted Neeskens as a victim of a chaotic, incompetent management structure eager to interfere in technical matters may have persuaded Motsepe to let his coach live another day in the job.
Sundowns’ situation, however, is increasingly looking untenable. All the people accused of interfering with Neeskens’ duties remain in their jobs.
Neeskens could well win the Telkom Knockout next weekend, when Sundowns face Bloemfontein Celtic. But what if they don’t win it? Or worse, win it and get relegated?
Motsepe has made many mistakes in his hiring and firing previously but his failure to handle the current crisis could well prove detrimental in the end. By the time he wakes up, it could be too late. – Saturday Star
*Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng