Losing the Cup Final in such a comprehensive manner really made me take a step back and look at my performance this season. It was arguably the worst day of my career but I’m determined to at least learn what I can and make the most of it. By the way, Sony Norde won the Player of the Tournament award, so that’s something.
So let’s start this winter break by looking at the squad. There are 2 very talented young players in this squad that’ve barely kicked a ball for me in the first half of the season, so I’m sorting them out straight away. Ernie showed promise last season but has struggled to make the bench since Aidir came in, so I’m offering him around on loan. If we do need another striker to come in for whatever reason we’ve always got fellow academy graduate Themi Maluka, but at 18 Ernie could do with more game time which is why he’s the one that’s heading out. The other young ‘un who needs game time is Eliphas Thoahlane, our young loanee centre back. I’m cancelling his loan and sending him back to Platinum Stars so that he can try and break into their team instead. I thought he was really good for us last year but again thanks to all of the quality brought in during the Summer, he’s been surplus to requirements for quite a while.
We’ve also got some new contracts to sort. There’s a few that are yet to convince me but I do offer new 1 year extensions to Marothi Diale, Dino Visser and (Call me crazy) King Carl. Diale’s a decent enough ball winner, Visser’s a willing enough backup keeper and I know for a fact that Lark knows where the net is. He can’t hide that instinct forever and at the very least he seems happy enough warming the bench. Another contract running out in the Summer is my own, although I’m not too sure what I want to do about that at the minute so we’ll save that conversation for another time.
We get started nearly straight away with our friendlies as I want us to go into the second half of the season with momentum aplenty. We start by playing out a dull match against our under 19’s that we win 1-0 thanks to a late winner from Joël. Baliso picks up a calf strain playing for the under 19’s and will miss 2-3 weeks, but I won’t lose any sleep over that.
On New Year’s Day I complete my Continental C Coaching License and Goolam Allie, who at this point is by far the most supportive Chairman I’ve ever worked for, coughs the funds straight up for me to start on my Continental B License. It’s a big statement for Goolam to help me better myself off the back of such a calamitous Cup Final. It tells me that he’s still got faith in my ability to take this club forwards and I genuinely appreciate that.
A few days later, Ernie gets his loan move much to my delight. He’s driving the fastest milk cart in the West over to one of our affiliate clubs, The Magic Football Club for the remainder of the season. Hopefully he gets himself in the team, scores some goals and comes back in good shape to win a first team place.
We continue our quest for momentum with a surprising 1-2 loss to our B team. Of course Carl Lark opens the scoring the moment he actually plays against me. Aidir equalises but it’s young centre back Mark Fanteni (No relation to young midfielder Luke) who scores the winner.
I’m trying not to think too much about cup ties at the minute but the South African FA Cup draws us against Baroka FC away. If they sound vaguely familiar to you it’s probably because they bought old Issouf Paro in the summer. It doesn’t look like he’ll be participating though as the poor sod’s picked up a double hernia and will miss 6-7 weeks.
We’re back on track with our next friendly; A 5-2 win over Mutual Academy. Aidir naturally bags himself a hat trick, Sinbad converts a penalty and Ryan Moon puts the cherry on top.
As we enter mid-January we welcome Roscoe back into the fold, having completed his rehabilitation after injury. He plays and actually sets a goal up as we score 5 again, this time against Idas Valley. Carl Lark scores a welcome brace and is pleasingly joined on the scoresheet by fellow flops Baliso and Moon, before Aidir adds his inevitable goal. The match is worrying in terms of injuries though as Masango has to go off after tweaking his hamstring early on and his replacement Moon, after his goal, comes off too with a twisted knee. They’ll both miss a couple of weeks but should be back in time for the competitive matches.
Up until this point I’ve been keeping an eye on the market for new players, but in all honesty I don’t think our problems have been a result of our personnel and I’m not going to buy for no reason. There’s no value in the market anyway at the minute. I do however stumble across a South African winger/inside forward/attacking midfielder that intrigues me. Luther Singh is pretty unknown to my scouts as he’s currently plying his trade in Portugal playing in Braga’s B team and our scouting budget is only just enough to cover bus fare into the centre of Cape Town. He spent last season on loan at Highlands Park, who were relegated from the PSL, but he didn’t play too badly and still I’m curious. I submit a loan bid for the rest of the season. I did ideally want another inside forward (tick), preferably versatile (tick) and preferably South African (tick) and he can always just play in the reserves if he turns out to be rubbish.
A few days later there’s more transfer news breaking. After hearing that Siyabonga Zulu has been offered a contract by Future Tigers for when his deal runs out in the… Future… I leap into action, sending him a good luck text. He’s been decent backup but he’ll do better in a lower division. He’s not PSL material.
Our next friendly is away at Jomo’s Power and we run out 3-0 winners, courtesy of a Sony Norde hat trick. We are running dangerously low on wingers though. Masango and Moon being out presents a great chance for Yanga Baliso to show me what he can do, but he gets injured 15 minutes from time with a thigh strain that’ll keep him out of action for a couple of weeks. It’s such a problem position for us that I hand appearances to Samora Qalanto, a young flanksman from our academy, and Guillaume Khous, who, like a baffled caveman homicide detective, still hasn’t found a bloody club.
Zulu agrees to join Future Tigers in the Summer a few days later, which as I say is fine by me. I only hope that he’ll be a professional about it and keep doing his best when called upon until then. I’d hate to see what he’s like when he stops trying.
A couple more days pass before Luther Singh signs on the dotted line. He’s a welcome addition to us; A decently quick and extremely skilful and tricky wide player. I’m especially glad to have him since we’re missing most of our wingers, except that Singh himself is currently out with a slipped disc and will miss up to 11 more days. To make matters worse, Carl Lark suffers a back strain and will miss up to a month of football. I swear we went through all of this this time last year.
So my attention turns to young Themi Maluka, who was my 4th choice striker at the start of the season but is now just a freak injury to Aidir away from a first team spot. So Romanian side Astra Giurgiu have picked a bad time to be interested in him, I’d say. They bid up to £56k for the striker and I reject it out of hand as derisory, but rap rap rap goes my office door once again. Themi’s unhappy with my decision, considering the bid an opportunity to play with better quality players.
“Here’s an idea, Themi”, I say, my voice dripping with thick, syrupy sarcasm, “Why don’t you play well enough in the reserves to earn yourself a run in the first team? That in itself would be an opportunity to play with better quality players.” We go back and forth for a while but he remains unhappy with my decision. I tell him to fuck off back to the reserves.
A few days layer Gugu Gogotya hops aboard the pain train after suffering a bruised shin but luckily he’ll be out for less than a week. The next day we host Gary Havenga, Manqoba Cele and their Zizwe United side and hand out another thrashing, this time 5-0 with a surprising hat trick from Sello Japhta, who relishes his return to the left wing. Aidir bags a brace too because obviously. Local bookies aren’t even offering odds on him any more.
On the penultimate day of January we play our penultimate friendly against affiliate club Vasco CT away. We beat them 3-0 and this time Aidir doesn’t actually score. The goals come from Joël, Ryan Moon and Masango as the latter pair step up their returns from injury.
The transfer window closes over the next couple of days and the only movement we’ve had is a loan signing and an arranged move for our backup left back. Speaking of Singh actually, he’s back in full training although he’s a while away from full fitness. He needs some serious game time in the reserves under his belt as it’s been a long time since his last match.
Our final friendly is against another Vasco. The more famous Vasco. CR Vasco de Gama of the Brazilian top flight. I relish the chance for a decent match as it’s proved very difficult to find teams worth playing against in South African friendlies. I use the occasion as a dry run for the Old Cape Town Derby in a week’s time, fielding as strong a side as I can and it bloody shows. A brilliant fluid move is finished by Ryan Moon for 1-0, a powerful low drive from Aidir makes it 2-0 and his cross is bundled home by Joël for 3-0, although it goes down as a Vladimir own goal. Valteir pulls one back on the rebound for the visitors after forcing a magnificent save from Komo, but we come away with a fantastic 3-1 win.
Annoyingly, in the following few days Astra Giurgiu come back with another couple of handfuls of change that they charitably call transfer offers. This time though they want young playmaker Luke Fanteni, even going as high as £29k for one of our brightest young talents. He’s actually already signed a pre-contract with us that’ll take effect when he turns 17, so I’m in no mood to indulge Astra. I make the effort to learn how to tell them to go away in Romanian. It’s “Pleacă de aici” apparently.
More annoying than that though are the injuries we pick up in the days leading up to the derby. Baliso’s brand new thigh strain isn’t exactly a heartbreaker, although it isn’t ideal that he’ll miss another few weeks from a purely “Squad depth” point of view.
Mike Kakuba’s chest injury is a real worry though. With 4 days to go, my physios estimate that my best defender will be out for 5-6 days, so it’ll be a close one.