Shaun Bartlett squared off against his former Bafana Bafana team-mate Eric Tinkler, in an Absa Premiership encounter at the Tuks Stadium on Saturday night. With both teams having only managed to collect a total of 18 points in their last collective 18 matches this season; one could have expected this to be a barn-fight between basement dwellers slugging it out for survival. But nothing could be further from the truth.
When Orlando Pirates were preparing for the match against AmaTuks they would have been well aware of the fact that a win would push them up the log and into the Top 8. This was at the back of the win against Ajax Cape Town midweek, which marked the end of a three match winless run. On the other hand AmaTuks who have been languishing in the bottom half of the log for the last 13 months had just appointed coach Shaun Bartlett who was charged with a rescue mission.
Long and the shot of it, this match was important.
Washington Arubi was made to earn his money with five shots at goal on target, and one off the cross bar plus a disallowed goal for AmaTuks in which Thabo Mnyamane was judged off-side made the first half a scorcher. But as fate would have it the Soweto Giants bucannered their way to a win by a solitary goal from captain Thabo Matlaba in the 70th minute, while a late surge saw Lennox Bacela missing a goal in the optional time, which could have seen the Tuks pinch a draw. The result meant that AmaTuks remain at second from bottom with 13 point from 18 matches, which would have been disappointing considering that Jomo Cosmos and Maritzburg United both lost their matches earlier that night.
This is not an unfamiliar situation for Shaun Bartlett as he took over Golden Arrows at a time when they were in a similar situation. He was not that fortunate in that season, as he could not survive the axe; but managed to lead Abafana Besithende back into the PSL the very next season. However the Cape Town born mentor is not convinced that the situation is quite the same as he believes to have “inherited a better squad, who are in a better off position than Golden Arrows was.” He also added that he thinks his learning’s from that experience will be valuable in assisting the team to get the players into the correct frame of mind.”
The former Bafana striker is under no illusion that the task before him is massive; as he reiterated that “the challenge is not just implementing tactics, but psychologically getting the players the self-belief that they can go on and achieve certain things.”
Another issue which seems to be the elephant in the room is the fact that Shaun Bartlett has proven to be quite comfortable coaching a team which knocks the ball around as they gain territory. He has now taken on a team which comes from an institution famous for playing direct football, and has been playing direct football for one hundred years.
In fact his assistant coach Evangelos Vellios won three Varsity Football titles in a row playing direct football. AmaTuks won the inaugural MutiChoice Diski Challenge playing direct football. So one wonders what tricks Shaun Bartlett has up his sleeve to implement his philosophy, and have it accepted by the players and the institution; considering that he does not much time. AmaTuks needs to start winning games soon and start putting points on the board if they are going to get out of the relegation zone.
On the flip side, the reality is that with only three training sessions, Shaun Bartlett has managed to set up a team which managed to hold off two-time continental cup finalists to a solitary goal and almost pulled one back in optional time. Perhaps he does not need much time.
To be honest, how this new marriage pans out is a supposition best left to the currency of time. But as a Tshwanetorian, one has no choice but to remain positive. Not only because I am a proud alumni, but because I hold a deep belief that the PSL needs a club with AmaTuks’ structures.
Therefore, if you assume that the more time Bartlett spends with the team, the better they will get, and Maritzburg keeps conceding. Then it is not that difficult to believe that Shaun Bartlett might just have a say into who is crowned champion on the 21st of May.
The Tshwane outfit is yet to play Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns, Bidvest Wits and Black Aces. And as the Champions League and Nedbank Cup kicks-off, there is no telling what the diverted focus might mean for what is most certainly going to be an interesting end to the season.