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Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
WHEN it was over, Kaitano Tembo collapsed into the arms of his delirious chief executive, Stan Matthews, and the party began at the Orlando Stadium.
The relief on the face of the former defensive hardman, probably the most loyal football servant after Ryan Giggs, was there for everyone to see.
Fittingly dressed for the occasion, a light blue suit whose jacket had long been tossed of his shoulders in the heat of the battle, and a matching darker shirt, Tembo was the man-of-the-moment.
And, under the lights of the Orlando Stadium, he celebrated his finest hour, as a coach, with the decency that has come to define him and the joy his historic breakthrough triumph had given him.
Tembo had just guided his SuperSport United side to victory in the MTN8 Cup final to become the second Zimbabwean coach to win a major silverware in South African football after the late Peter “Thunderboots” Nyama who lifted the Coca-Cola Cup with Qwa Qwa Stars way back in 1994.
He also Cleared the hurdle where his mentor, Sunday Chidzambwa, had fallen with Black Leopards in the Nedbank Cup when they lost to Orlando Pirates in 2011 after they had taken the lead.
On Saturday, SuperSport United took the lead, just before the break through a header by Bradley Grobler, and never surrendered it despite Highlands Park coming close on a number of occasions.
Tembo had come into the game carrying the weight of expectation from employers who didn’t want a second successive loss in the final of the same tournament.
He was in charge last year when Cape Town City won the same final on penalties in Durban and, after eliminating Mamelodi Sundowns in the semi-final, his men came into battle as slight favourites.
Club boss, Matthews, then stoked the fires when he said Tembo needed to win the final, and finish among the top four in the league, to brighten his chances of the extension of his contract as coach.
It’s a brutal job this, where the coaches are judged purely by results, and Tembo knew the consequences of failure and, for a long time in this contest, carried them on his face.
His men also appeared nervy, at the beginning, gifting their opponents a golden chance early on only for goalkeeper Ronwen Williams to produce a fine save.
But, once they got the lead, there was no stopping them and they even had chances to score more goals, with their strong wing play created fine opportunities.
Evans Rusike, playing on the flanks, had a very strong performance and was complemented well by man-of-the-match Thamsaqa Gabuza back at the stadium he used to call home.
The way Gabuza, who ended up as the top scorer in the tournament, has been reborn — after all the problems he went through at Orlando Pirates where he was routinely booed by his own fans — has been an amazing tale.
One that speaks volumes about Tembo’s excellent man management skills and on Saturday his team reaped the dividends as they celebrated their second MTN8 trophy in three years.
It was also a very popular victory.
“I would like to congratulate Coach Kaitano Tembo and SuperSport United on their MTN8 victory,” Sundowns’ gaffer Pitso Mosimane wrote on Twitter.
“They deserve the trophy after their victories over Bidvest Wits and Mamelodi Sundowns.”
Former Zimbabwe captain William Mugeyi was also among the first people to congratulate Tembo after his latest achievement on Saturday night.
“That’s a great achievement for him and it’s also good for his CV as a young coach. We are all proud of him for finally winning the MTN8 title. Remember it was his second cup final after reaching the final of the same MTN8 tournament but he unfortunately lost to Cape Town City last season,” said Mugeyi, who is now running a football academy in East London, South Africa.
The success story could not have come in a better year for Tembo.
For this marks the 20th year of his association with SuperSport United since he arrived at the club as a player.
He won the same tournament, during his playing days, 15 years ago, and after serving his apprenticeship as a coach in the club’s junior teams, and as an assistant coach, he was finally thrown into the deep end.
“At the moment my focus is to make a mark at SuperSport and grow to be a better coach,” he told The Herald.
And, there isn’t a better way to grow one’s profile, in this job, than winning tournaments and championships.
That is why Saturday’s breakthrough success matters for Tembo because it shows he can win on the big stage.
The monkey is now off his back and that boosts his confidence levels to believe that his tactics are working.
And, crucially, it will provide his employers with the assurance they didn’t make the wrong decision when they entrusted him with the big job.
After years of working in the shadows of others, Tembo has now emerged into the limelight and his team’s victory on Saturday night could be a catalyst for more achievements.
Always the laid-back character, he didn’t go running across the stadium, like Jose Mourinho when he announced himself to the world at Old Trafford that night.
He calmly soaked in the moment, was an oasis of calm in the post-match interviews and then joined his men when their skipper lifted the trophy.
Of course, this was his finest hour — something that has been in the making for 20 years since he first arrived in South Africa.
But, watching him on Saturday, amid the madness that was going around him, there was no doubt he had already started planning for the next assignment, the next conquest. That is the nature of this man, his humility is striking, his pursuit for greatness is striking, and the little town of Kadoma must be proud they gave the world this gem.
Never one to court controversy, Tembo has been a fine football ambassador for his country and that’s why his name now featured prominently when local fans and pundits talk about the next Warriors coach.
Of course, after Saturday’s events, that’s not going to happen any time soon because his romance with SuperSport United is now set to be extended.
That’s what happens when you bring a cool R8 million into your employer’s bank account.