S'Busiso Mseleku

Soweto baptism of fire

2012-12-07 14:08
Sport24 columnist S’Busiso Mseleku (File)

Stuart Baxter and Roger de Sa will get a baptism of fire when their sides - Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates - meet in one of the biggest soccer derbies in the world on Saturday.

The fact that tickets for this match – all 80 000 of them - were sold-out two weeks ago – overtaking even last week’s Telkom Knockout Cup final – tells a very important story.

In a number of years gone by, the Soweto derby lost its shine as it had become only about bragging rights as the two clubs struggled to maintain their mark and claim the league title.

But the past two years, more especially the last two seasons in which Orlando Pirates bagged unprecedented back-to-back trebles, have seen a huge shift and this mammoth game taking its rightful place in the South African soccer calendar.

The stage could not have been better than as it is now after midweek games where log-leaders and pace-setters Chiefs overwhelmed Ajax Cape Town 3-0 to open a four points gab between them and their arch-rivals that was reduced to three points after Wednesday night’s thrilling goalless draw between Pirates and newcomers Chippa United.

For Baxter, this will not be a totally new experience all together as he has sat on the bench against Pirates, albeit for 45 minutes in that circus called The Carling Black Label Challenge. Previously, he had watched the derby from the comfort of the VIP suite during his stint as Bafana Bafana mentor.

De Sa, has at least tasted the atmosphere of facing both clubs while he coached Bidvest Wits and Santos. He was also between the sticks for Moroka Swallows several times against Chiefs and Pirates during his playing days in the other two versions of the Soweto derby but the intensity is all different altogether as this nothing compared to sitting on the bench in what has become the Real McCoy Soweto derby.

This is one match that has made and broken several coaches as well as players.

There is a saying in football that you can win all matches as a Chiefs or Pirates coach, but a loss to either, could easily mean an end of your career as their coach.

Some coaches have even gone on to win the league, but their contracts were never extended after losing in the Soweto derby.

Such is the importance of this match that many families and households are split right down the middle during and after the game. There are families where husband and wife will not talk to each other for weeks following the derby.

It’s one match that turns brother into foe.

Add to that the new Premier Soccer League (PSL) Q-Innovation where Chiefs walked away with R1.5 million for winning the first quarter. Going into the derby, Pirates are a point ahead of Amakhosi with two matches of this quarter remaining.

A win by Pirates in this match and their next, will see them pocket this mouthwatering amount. However, Chiefs can turn the tables if they beat the Buccaneers in this game and go on to win their next.

The stage is set for some dazzling football but the spot-light will be more on the coaches. Any coach who comes out tops in this encounter, will entrench himself with the club’s loyalists.

Whoever comes a cropper will have a lot to worry about his future with the club, no matter what happens in other matches going forward.

Such is the Soweto Derby’s importance and the two mentors should be well aware of that.

Any coach who has undermined the result of this match in the past, has found out the hard way what a loss means.

While enjoying the match on Saturday, spare a thought for Baxter and De Sa. No one can blame them for having sleepless nights.

This is one match on the South African soccer calendar that comes closest to making people understand what legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly meant when he quipped: “People say football is a matter of life and death. They are wrong; it is much more than that.”

S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.

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