Morning! I recorded a podcast yesterday with my good friend Freddy where we discuss who should be in England’s World Cup Squad for Russia 2018. You can listen to it on Soundcloud!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, on Christmas Eve Magesi FC buy Blignaut for £4k, Hey!
You’re trying to fit it to the tune, aren’t you. Don’t worry, it doesn’t fit. The extra syllable in Magesi kills it to be perfectly honest, but what is Christmas time all about if not a spirit of accepting small imperfections and having a good wholesome time with those closest to you?
In that vein, I have indeed bundled Keenon Blignaut off to the only club stupid enough to put in a bid. I was fed up of his moaning about wanting first team football. He should have thought about that before he got injured at the same time as Dino Visser, shouldn’t he. Merry Christmas, me.
Pretty much as soon as our last match finishes before the break, I start scouring the world for talent. The first footballer that tickles my fancy is EPTA’s 19 year old, Cameroonian, out of contract centre back Isaac Sohna.
He’s not great technically, but unless you’re after the next Lionel Messi, the technical side of a footballer’s game is the easiest part to coach in my opinion. You can make a player work on his first touch, technique, tackling, marking or heading, but the things that you really need a young footballer to be born with are athleticism and a good brain, and bloody hell does Isaac Sohna have both in abundance. He’s fairly quick, strong, and I can’t fault his mental game at all, but bravery, determination, positioning and work rate are all particular highlights. I offer him a contract, but as he’s another Cameroonian only capped at Under 20 level we’ll have to wait the obligatory and infuriating month to find out whether he can move.
Khat comes to me just after the new year. He’s seemingly made a new years resolution that he wants to play regular first team football, so he wants to be allowed to leave. It’s with quite a heavy heart I accept and place him on the transfer list. My “Chosen One” idea didn’t really pan out, did it?
We then have the headache of whose contracts we want to renew. I’m reminded of this in early January when Golden Arrows try to tempt Gertse away with a contract offer. We have quite a few others whose contracts are running out in the Summer and we have to balance this. On one hand, there are a lot of players who’ve disappointed me with their performances and have no place in my squad once I bring in suitable replacements, plus it’ll be good to free up some funds by getting some of their wages off the books, but on the other I don’t want to let everyone go and have the pressure in the Summer of having to make shoddy signings just to fill the bench because I’ve not left myself with enough of a squad.
I offer Gertse a new deal, as he’s been one of the good ones in my opinion and I don’t want him to leave to a rival. I also offer new deals to Ryan Moon and Sello Japhta, but they both price me out and I’m forced to withdraw from negotiations with both of them. That could be a problem. Another worry is that Joseph Ekwalla doesn’t want to sign a new deal as he already feels that he’s outgrown us. He’s got 18 months left before his deal expires but that really vexes me. After much deliberation, Sinbad, Zulu, Diale, Lark, Gogotya and Havenga are also offered 1 year extensions and they all sign on the dotted line. That’ll do for now.
Now, let’s talk about Issouf Paro. When I came to the club I knew the kind of player he was. Physically intimidating, a good ball winner, but prone to switching off. Unfortunately, his lapses in concentration have far outweighed his technical and physical defensive ability so far, so I had planned to drop him after the break and try a defensive partnership of Gertse and Havenga, who have both been pretty solid. That being said, I’m not prepared for what happens next. In training, only a week or so into the new year, Paro breaks his leg. It’s a real gut punch and we’re all genuinely devastated for him. He’ll miss the rest of the season and possibly the start of the next one.
We need to shake it off though. As horrifying as it was to watch his lower leg snap like a wishbone, we need to prepare for the second half of the season. We start with a match against our Under 18’s, just to get back into the swing of things and get our confidence up a bit. I decide to introduce the squad to my old favourite Project: Meatloaf, as most of the friendlies I’ve been able to arrange are against weaker opposition that we should dominate. They enjoy the freedom of the new system, and Lark, Havenga and Japhta get the goals in a predictably dominant 3-0 win. I also very deliberately don’t substitute a single player. I put out what I think will be my first team going forwards and I want them all to experience what winning a match feels like again. It’s been a while at this point. Sello Japhta comes away with a strained wrist but he’ll be fine in a week or so. He won’t be alone in the treatment room either; Ryan Moon picks up a strained thigh in training a couple of days later and will also miss about a week.
With Paro’s tibia currently splintered like an old matchstick, we need backup at centre back. I’ve identified the man I want to provide it, and made a loan offer to sign him; Platinum Stars’ youngster Eliphas Thoahlane.
Thoahlane is a 19 year old South African lad and he looks pretty promising. He’s solid technically, a good, brave and aggressive leader and he’s got good fitness levels. His contract also expires in the Summer so if the loan goes well we may even snap him up on a free. He joins us a couple of days after the loan bid.
The time then arrives for the South African FA Cup First Round draw, and we’re handed what should be a fairly comfortable home tie against First Division side Jomo Cosmos.
Over the next few days, I turn down loan bids from Maritzburg United and Chippa United for Zulu, as well as a loan offer from Cape Town City for Sinbad, who they want as back up to their first team. I reject it. As he’s one of the first names on my team sheet, it also feels like a bit of a dig, which annoys me.
Our next friendly is against our Reserves. Again, today is just about getting everybody’s confidence back up. I name no substitutes for the first team so that Reserve team Manager Sifiso Baloyi can name whoever he wants in his lineup. We want a bit of a challenge after all and it’s a good opportunity for those in the fringes of the squad to impress me. My plan’s shot to tatters a bit when Saileg Richards, in my team while Moon gets over his injury, twists his ankle early on and we’re left to play the majority of the game with 10 men. Nevertheless, young left winger Manqoba Cele is also in my team replacing Japhta and he really shines, looking dangerous throughout and setting up new boy Sony Norde for the only goal in our 1-0 win. It’s also worth noting that young Thoahlane has a solid game for the reserves.
A few days later we’re ready to step outside our little Santos bubble and actually play a friendly against another team. Jomo’s Power come over for a kick-about and we send them away mourning a 5-1 loss, with our goals coming from Moon, an own goal and a brilliant hat trick from Sambou, who I brought back into the lineup as Carl Lark’s gone off the boil a bit. Safe to say he’ll keep his place for now. I also give run outs to young defensive midfielder Junaid Mobara and young striker Ernil Mobara (No relation).
Worryingly, Sony Norde picks up a dead leg during the match. He’s only out for a couple of days so it isn’t the duration of the injury that worries me, it’s the fact that we’ve lost Japhta, Moon, Richards and now Norde in quick succession. My 3 behind the striker and a backup right winger have dropped like flies and I need to keep an eye on that.
I needn’t have been worried about Ryan Moon though. Next we travel to the imaginatively named United FC and record another 5-1 win. Emil Sambou scores a second hat trick in as many matches and they’re all set up by Moon, who bags 2 goals himself. Bloody hell, what a performance. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and follow your gut, and this is one of those times. I offer Moon a new 2 year deal on his terms, which he’s thankfully lowered anyway, and he signs.
Almost a week later we get a couple of frustrating pieces of news. Firstly, Sello Japhta’s looking at another injury layoff. He’s strained his back and will miss 3-4 weeks, which at this point means he’ll probably miss a couple of competitive fixtures.
On top of that, young centre back Isaac Sohna’s work permit is rejected, which I appeal, and is then swiftly rejected again. I call the deal off, but it leaves a really bitter taste in my mouth to do so. I can’t help but feel that he’ll be Santos’ “One that got away” at some point in the future.
Cultural Roots are next to visit as we carry on our promising run of friendlies. I find myself actually feeling a little disappointed when the final whistle blows and Emil Sambou only has 2 goals to his name, with Diale getting the 3rd in a 3-0 win. I don’t know where this Sambou’s been all season but I’m smacking my lips at the prospect of unleashing him on the League. Sadly, Saileg Richards is reintroduced after his injury but immediately twists his knee and will miss another couple of weeks.
As January draws to a close I reject several transfer offers for young Luvo Modise as most of the clubs interested want me to pay too big a chunk of his wages. I do accept a reasonable offer of £1k from Platinum Stars though, who we’ve loaned Thoahlane from.
In fact, speaking of Thoahlane, I offer him a contract. He looks good and I want to get in there early to secure a permanent transfer at the end of the season when his deal expires. As soon as they secure Modise though, the slippery bastards trigger a 1 year contract extension on our loanee centre back. I see how it is, Platinum Stars. I see what you did there. You just made my list.
I also reject a loan offer from Highlands Park for Nathan Gertse, because he’s one of my starting defenders, so I obviously don’t want him going to a rival. I do however let young attacking midfielder Sakhile Maloka head out on loan to the tremendously named Future Tigers for the rest of the season. I do love some of these South African club names.
And with that, the transfer deadline passes. If I’m honest I wanted more reinforcements than 1 loanee centre back, but our funds are pretty tight and I’m not going to get shoddy players in for the sake of it. We’ll plug on until the end of the season and hopefully have better luck in the market in the summer. We’ve got 2 friendly matches left against comparatively bigger sides than the ones we’e played so far.
The first is a trip to Stellenbosch, a first division side. Sambou scores yet again for us but 2 late goals for the hosts resign us to our first defeat of the break. What’s more gutting is that Sony Norde strains his thigh and will miss 3-4 weeks. I honestly don’t know how or why my attacking players have sustained such heavy and frequent injuries in the last month.
And finally, a real challenge. We host Brøndby IF, a Danish Superliga side. They represent a considerable step up to anybody we’ve played so far. I’m highly encouraged by the performance to be fair. Carl Lark opens the scoring in the second half but Brøndby fight back late on after Zulu gets a second yellow and a red, sending us down to 10 men. It’s an even game though and I’m actually quite disappointed not to hold on for the win.
The real heartbreak however is that our standout performer recently, Emil Sambou, comes off in the first half with a broken ankle and will miss the rest of the season with Issouf Paro. He’d scored 9 goals in his last 5 games. I’m absolutely gutted.
Just to try and balance out the attack/defence injury ratio before our first competitive game of the calendar year, Dino Visser then goes and rules himself out for a few weeks with a back strain, but I’m planning on sticking with Komo anyway.
I didn’t enjoy my first ever winter break in Poland, but this one’s been different. It’s been a real mixed bag, but if it wasn’t for all the injuries I’d have probably gone as far as to say that I enjoyed it. We’ve got our confidence back, played with some freedom and swagger in a more entertaining system, and had a look at some of the next batch of possible academy graduates. I didn’t get all of the reinforcements that I wanted, but I got a brilliant little defender, which we needed, and who knows maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that I didn’t make any more signings. Maybe the young homegrown lads will come through for us.