By Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
AFTER decades of silence and denial, it has now taken one of Africa’s most prominent football coaches to raise the red flag by conceding that local teams have for years been getting a raw deal from referees, and other influential forces, on the continent.
Persistent cries from a number of local coaches, who repeatedly complained their teams were robbed by referees and officials in North and West Africa, have long been dismissed as songs from a bunch of serial losers.
But, all that has changed now.
Pitso Mosimane, who guided Mamelodi Sundowns to their first CAF Champions League crown three years ago, made the sensational claims at the weekend that the region’s teams have for years suffered at the hands of bullies from North and West Africa.
The South African gaffer, who was crowned the 2016 CAF Coach of the Year and was also named one of the best 10 coaches in the world that year by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, says the playing field in Africa hasn’t been level for a long time.
A furious Mosimane poured out his soul after trouble erupted during Sundowns’ explosive CAF Champions League showdown against Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca in Pretoria last weekend which the hosts won 2-1.
In that no-holds-barred interview with the South African media, Mosimane also lifted the lid that has covered the dirty secrets of African football, which many coaches here have repeatedly complained about, without getting relief or support from their audience.
He spoke on behalf of the late Reinhard Fabisch, the former Warriors coach, whose beautiful romance with his Dream Team was effectively ended in controversial fashion after the CAF leadership banned him for one-year following an altercation he had with match officials who handled the Warriors’ do-or-die ’94 World Cup qualifier against Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions in Yaounde.
Riled by what he considered to be biased officiating, in an epic winner-take-all game in which the winners would get the ticket to the ’94 World Cup finals, Fabisch lost his cool and threw some United States dollar notes in the direction of the referees.
It was an apparent claim by the fiery German that Gambian referee Alhaji Faye and his assistants had been bribed to ensure the Indomitable Lions would emerge victorious in that match, which they won 3-1, to represent the continent in the United States.
Mosimane also spoke on behalf of Sunday Chidzambwa, whose quest to transform Dynamos into the champions of Africa in 1998, ended under a blaze of controversy one afternoon in Abidjan, when his inspirational captain Memory Mucherahowa was head-butted into unconsciousness, during warm-up, and missed the big game as he battled for his life in an Ivorian hospital.
The Sundowns gaffer spoke on behalf of Lloyd Mutasa who, eight years ago, saw seven of his DeMbare players — Washington Arubi, Patrick Khumbula, Devon Chafa, George Magariro, Denver Mukamba, Thomas Magorimbo and Rodrick Mutuma — being shown yellow cards while Archford Gutu and Guthrie Zhokinyi were sent off in a Champions League match against MC Alger in Algiers.
Mutuma was left with a swollen eye from a punch from a defender while the hosts were given 36 free-kicks by the Egyptian referee that night, including a penalty, as they found a way to erase a 1-4 first leg deficit and win the game 3-0, the exact result they needed to go through.
Mosimane also spoke on behalf of Highlanders who, as champions of local football, were given a raw deal in Cameroon in a CAF Champions League second round match with Sable de Batie, who had lost the first leg 0-3 at Barbourfields, somehow managing to win the return fixture by the same scoreline and then triumph on penalties.
The South African coach could also spoken on behalf of the late Joel Shambo who had a gun pointed at his head in Algiers by a soldier, to force him to leave the bench, with his Blackpool side later conceding a goal which helped JS Kabylie win this CAF Cup Winners Cup semi-final on the away goals rule after having lost the first leg 1-2 in Harare in 1995.
Mosimane might also have spoken on behalf of the Mighty Warriors who suffered the injustice of having seeing their clear goal, in their 2016 African Women Cup of Nations match against Egypt in Yaounde, Cameroon, somehow being disallowed by the referee as they fell to an agonising 0-1 defeat.
And many other cases, which have confronted representative local football teams on the continent in the past 39 years, in North and West Africa, too numerous to mention in just one edition of this newspaper.
What Did Mosimane Really Say?
The South African coach exploded after a match against the visiting Moroccan side.
A spectacular fallout between the two teams ensued amid reports that some of the Wydad Casablanca players and officials spit at the fans and officials of the Brazilians after the match. “It’s a Champions League game, big emotions and all these things. They do this to us,” Mosimane told the South African media.
“They do this in Morocco. We go everywhere and everybody bullies us. They do this to us, we don’t find ball boys (in Morocco), they come to South Africa and want to bully us? No! We’re even local, we know what to do. People bully us, we give it back! Gone are the days.
“The North Africans are always bullying everybody, always. They bully referees, they bully everybody, they don’t want to lose. We beat them fair and square. Two legitimate goals.
“Wydad is used to winning, pushing everybody and the referees. You know even if we’re home people are on the floor, the goalkeepers are on the floor, people doing all that. It’s about time Sundowns give back, two wrongs don’t make a right but this is football. “If you’re fighting in boxing and somebody takes out the gloves, I also take out the gloves.”
He said the North and West African sides get away with a lot of gamesmanship.
“They are used to winning’ a loss to them is something different and they know how to manipulate the system by pressurising referees'” Mosimane said.
“It is the first time I saw a referee and an assistant moving out of the pitch to look for balls. This happens every week but I have never seen referees going to look for balls’ but the bench put pressure on them.
“That’s why the North Africans dominate this space. We don’t know how to play with them but we are getting there. We are getting wiser and we now know how to play in this competition because it is not always about the game but your mental attitude.
“We have to fight fire with fire, any stadium we will be going to’ we are going to fight fire with fire and if you cannot have the spirit and the mentality’ you will never play in my team.”