When a dog bites a man, it is not news. But when a man bites a dog, now that’s news. In South Africa, when a coach gets a fired. Or better yet, “departs a club on an amicable basis.” Well it might be news in other countries but in my beloved Mzansi. That’s not news.
You see, just as every Muslim knows that the sighting of the moon signals the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the feast known as Eid Mubharak. In the same way, we the devotees of the football faith know that when a coach drops points so as to leave his club languishing in the bottom half of the log, his grasp on the helm is slipping away. Ours is a new faith relative to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Thus, observation is the only tool that we can use to craft our dogma. For example, when news of Platinum Stars FC boss Allan Freese “departing the club amicably” broke, it was not a shock. With Dikwena sitting fourth from the bottom, with a mere 24 points after 22 games, the writing was on the wall.
It was only last night while listening to SportsTalk with Udo Carelse, that a startling statistic about my beloved doctrine of the Premeir Soccer League got my attention. Did you know that of the 16 clubs that started in the PSL this season, 12 have had a change of coaches at least once this season? While the four that have kept their coaches, namely Kaizer Chiefs FC, Mamelodi Sundowns FC, Ajax CT FC and Bidvest Wits FC are currently in the top five. Off course Orlando Pirates FC appointment is still to be confirmed, makes them the black swallow in the top five.
For a split second it was almost like an ice bucket thrown over my head, until I took a few moments to wrap my mind around these numbers.
At first glance, there is no question that these numbers are shocking, particularly if we look at them in isolation. Something we do all too often in our public discourse.
But the reality is that 2014/2015 season is an abnormal season. Think about it, the 12 clubs includes SuperSport United FC who have an exemplary record of keeping coaches. We have had a coaches walking out of clubs, so maar net so! Zeca Marques! Vladimir Vermezovic! Steve Barker! I mean Steve Barker, have you ever heard of anything more bizarre, as a coach leaving a club nestled in a 100 year old institution like the University of Pretoria to take up a job at relegation bound Amazulu FC? Right in the middle of contract renewal negotiations, nogal!
So although I accept that ejecting a coach is a normal practice in the PSL. But we must also add that the 2014/2015 season is an extraordinary season. And if you want to compare that to European leagues, it does seem close on ridiculous. But that’s only if you want to look at that comparison in isolation.
However, if you take a broader perspective, you have to appreciate that the trading conditions in our league are unique. You literately do not see them in any other football industry any where in the world. Let me challenge you to consider the following factors.
Firstly, our league is less than 20 years old. In it there are 11 clubs that have actually gone through a change in ownership, some of them more than once. Therefore, if you accept that when you sell a business, you give rise to that dreaded untradeable asset called Goodwill. Then you have to also accept that when you sell the business on multiple occasions, it is inevitable that some if not all of these transactions would have been entered into using other people’s money. So essentially, what that means is you might have 60 and 80 year old clubs like Amzulu FC and Moroka Swallows FC, but in reality you have 5 to 10 year old businesses. This is something you don’t see anywhere in the world.
Secondly, if you consider the extremely high level of competition in the PSL, which I still contend is the highest in the world. The reality is with 7 -8 games to play, and 11 points between the club sitting at number 6 and 15. That means all clubs from number six down are actually in the relegation zone. You certainly don’t see that anywhere in Europe.
Now if you combine that with the gap between the earning ability of clubs in the PSL and the earning ability of clubs in NFD. Then you have to admit, that if you were running a highly geared business, sitting at the edge of losing its revenue stream. You too would see the need to take drastic decisions.
Before, you throw Chippa Mpengesi’s trigger happy tendencies in my face as a counter argument; let me make one thing clear. I am not in any way arguing that all these decisions were correct. But what I am saying is that firing coaches is symptomatic of something bigger than just mis-management.
I think it is reflective of clubs seeking to avoid dealing with the daunting situation of running a club at a fraction of the budget; because if a business is worth its salt it must pay for itself. No good businessman buys a business for that much money using his own money. Basic financial management teaches us that you make higher returns if you use other people’s money. Therefore, if your club gets relegated, you can change staff, sell players, scale down. The fans will understand. The press will understand. But your creditors certainly won’t.
So what I am saying is, more than likely, firing a coach is actually a Balance Sheet decision. If the gap between grants in the PSL and NFD was not so wide, then we would see less of this.
A perfect example of a club that has braved the NFD cold because their Balance Sheet reserves were sufficient enough to do that, is Jomo Cosmos FC. They faced relegation on many occasions, but have you ever seen them panic and fire people? And if you think this is a South African phenomenon, think of Queenspark Rangers FC. How many coaches have they bulleted, and when did they go through their change of ownership?
You see, I believe in the unquestionable quality of our entrepreneurs. I actually think you get better entrepreneurs in South Africa, than you get in Europe. Even in football.
You see in South Africa, we were celebrating prime at 9%, saying it was the lowest in 30 years. In Europe, they work with 2% prime lending rate for years; meantime in South Africa each time the Governor of the Reserve Bank, gets up to speak we are all holding thumbs. Because one word from him, and the business model turns on its head.
Our club owners know how to run a business. They know how to work with volatile market conditions. While in Europe they have absolutely no idea what it’s like to run a business on a knife’s edge. If you don’t believe me, count how many clubs entered administration because of the economic downturn in South Africa? Zero! In, England? I think the owners at Portsmouth are still avoiding Aron Mokoena’s phone calls.
In conclusion, I believe that the hiring and firing of coaches is just a stage in the evolution of our football industry. As the industry attracts investors, changes of ownership will take place, Balance Sheets will be geared, and people will continue to panic and make drastic decisions. But like measles, this too will come to pass. It might take a few years, but it will. Trust me. You’ll see.
The tempest prognosticator
Themba A Dikgale