Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
KAITANO TEMBO, a bastion of loyalty to the SuperSport United cause who is marking his 20th anniversary at the club, celebrated one of his finest moments as a coach on Wednesday night when he masterminded a spectacular 1-0 win over Orlando Pirates in Nelspruit.
The 48-year-old Zimbabwean gaffer has spent the last 20 years of his life working at the Pretoria side after arriving there in 1999 from Harare giants Dynamos.
He has risen from being a player, academy coach, assistant coach to the top position in the club’s technical team, head coach, after his patience, and loyalty, were eventually rewarded by the South African Premiership side last August with a two-year contract to guide the club.
And Tembo, the only Zimbabwean coach in charge of a Supa Diski team, guided his men to inflict only a third league defeat in the Soweto giants as SuperSport United moved into fourth place and firmly back in the championship race.
Matsatsansa are now only five points behind leaders Bidvest Wits, and only a point behind Pirates, with Mamelodi Sundowns in second place on 35 points in this intriguing marathon.
Wednesday’s victory was also the third straight game that SuperSport United have won after victories over Golden Arrows (3-2) in Durban and a 2-1 home win over Bloemfontein Celtics.
The latest win was also secured courtesy of the input by two of his Zimbabwean players, leftback Onismor Bhasera, and striker Evans Rusike while his goalkeeper Rowen Williams saved a late penalty from Pirates skipper Happy Jele.
“I think it is the first time in maybe 16 matches that we have won three games on the trot,’’ Tembo told the South African media on Wednesday.
‘’We haven’t done that in a while, we have missed some consistency.
“We dominated, especially in the first half. We created better chances, especially on the transition. We put pressure on them and their goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands really kept them in the game with some great saves — one on the line and another at (the) near post from Siyabonga Nhlapho.
“We were still good in the second half, getting into good areas. I think overall we played effective football. And above all, the work ethic from the guys was very good — that was one thing we took from the game. That is our identity, that is who we are as SuperSport.’’
Tembo revealed he has been seeing progress from his men as the coach and his troops begin to bond and understand each other very well.
‘’This is the SuperSport I know. This is the SuperSport that started the season and we had lost it a little bit. We fight, we’re difficult to beat when we play this way,’’ he told SuperSport TV.
‘’I’m happy we getting that back.
“We will keep on fighting, we are taking it one game at a time. Now we can focus on Baroka, try to calm down the guys a little bit because there’s still a long way. We really need to focus on our game, recuperate and make sure we’re ready for Saturday.”
There is no questioning Tembo’s commitment to the team’s cause, the ultimate one-club man in the South African Premiership.
After all, he has spent the last 20 years working there, in different capacities, and understands the culture at Matsatsansa, which was crucial in swaying the club’s leadership to give him a job.
“Kaitano epitomises what it means to be a club man,” SuperSport United chief executive, Stanley Matthews said, explaining why they decided to give him the job last year.
‘’He joined us as a player 19 years ago and has worked his way through our youth structures and subsequently into the first team as an assistant.
“He has steered us on a caretaker basis on three separate occasions and everyone at the club is committed to reciprocating his loyalty and his desire to win silverware.’’
And he has also learned from the best, including Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter, who used to be the head coach at SuperSport United before he returned to the national team.
Tembo’s progress has also been closely followed back home with some suggesting he is on the right path to possibly transform himself into the Warriors coach one day.
‘’It’s never easy to coach in the South African Premiership, and SuperSport United are not a small club but a huge football institution down there, and there is no doubt that he has done well so far,’’ said veteran football commentator, Charles ‘’CNN’’ Mabika.
‘’I think what is impressive about his story is the way he has stayed grounded, a humble man who is never in the news for controversy, he never brags and is always showing he is willing to learn even more.
‘’He never complained when he was being overlooked for the big job and just kept on working hard and now he is enjoying the fruits of his patience.’’
But, like in any job, there have been some challenges.
Towards the end of the year, he was confronted by a furious SuperSport United fan, after a 1-1 draw away at Highlands Park in Tembisa, unhappy the coach was not playing promising footballer, Kamohelo Mhlatsi.
But, as usual, Tembo was humble in his reaction.
‘’I don’t really know where that came from but I’m not really concerned, you know‚” he said. ‘’It was just one lady who wanted Kamo (Mahlatsi) to come on to play but she doesn’t realise that I am the one who introduced him and who has given him his first PSL debut.
‘’I know what I am doing with him.
“I know how to manage him and that’s very important. I don’t want to just throw him to the wolves. She is just a supporter and she doesn’t know.
“But it’s my job to try and control that because I’m the head coach.”