Johannesburg - Astute, imposing and with a distinctive Latin charm, he was known by all and sundry in South African soccer as “The Godfather”, with Kaizer Chiefs supremo Kaizer Motaung labelling him “one of a kind”.
It was one of the many tributes and accolades heaped on Mario Tuani, following the news that the legendary and charismatic coach, who served South African soccer for more than 30 years, had died at age 90 on the outskirts of Santiago in his country of birth, Chile.
Former Mamelodi Sundowns co-owner and administrator Angelo Tsichlas said Tuani had revolutionised soccer coaching methods in South Africa during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s when his Robert de Niro-like good looks made him a recognisable and admired figure throughout the country.
Tuani guided Chiefs and Sundowns to league titles.
He also served Highlands Park, Moroka Swallows, Orlando Pirates, Hellenic, Powerlines, Berea Park and other clubs with distinction.
Tuani stamped his mark indelibly on Mzansi football as the coach of what was termed the SA Black XI in the multinational tournament that heralded the beginning of the end of the odious apartheid doctrine that plagued the country’s sport; recruiting a host of gifted South American players to feature in the NFL and, later, the NPSL, as well as arranging the visit of the composite Argentinian side that played against the country’s first multiracial national team in the mid-70s.
On the overseas front, Tuani coached world-renowned Penarol to the Uruguayan championship and guided Doxa Drama to the Greek League title.
A motivator supreme, he persuaded the late Brazilian ball wizard, Jorge Santoro, to come to the country to play for Highlands Park and other clubs.
Santoro would describe him as “the only man I know who could sell eggs to a chicken”.
Tuani had a most disarming manner of murdering the English language and once asked Highlands defensive stalwart Hennie Joubert if he would “eat a banana while diving into the deep end of a swimming pool”, following up with the equally chlorine-tinged question:
“Then why you try to mark two forwards at the same time?”
But Tuani demonstrated he also had a murderous punch on other occasions. Once, while coaching Berea Park when they needed to win their last match of the season to annex an improbable NFL League title, the unfashionable Pretoria team were trailing by two goals at half-time against eventual champions, Durban City.
After the players had trooped into the dressing rooms at the interval, Tuani asked his captain, former English League professional Bryan Orritt, why the team had disregarded all his instructions.
“F*ck off,” was Orritt’s reply.
To which the coach flattened the captain with a murderous right hook from which he needed 10 minutes to recover...
Gone, but clearly not forgotten, this week many who had played under “The Godfather” attended a memorial function in his honour. - Sy Lerman
One-time football supremo, Kgomotso Mangaliso Modise, known as “Bra Tso” in many circles, passed away this week.
He was a big man in many respects – physically upright and tall, a good brain and a commanding presence.
A social magnet who cultivated and forged friendships easily, he also had a penchant for turning good friends into formidable enemies. He liked playing Godfather in the true Mafia sense.
Whenever there were hostilities, he always played the mediator. A natty dresser with sartorial taste in the true Gambino-style mobster culture, Bra Tso was rarely matched by his peers.
This was accentuated by his good looks – women fell at his feet whenever he turned on the charm.
He was a streetwise boardroom and marketing guru who knew how to play the power game, and thrived on his two foremost loves: soccer and advertising.
He lived life to the fullest – women, song, wine and dance, that sort of thing.
Bra Tso even got shot in the process, but miraculously survived seven bullets pumped into his body one New Year’s eve in the 1980s, and, wobbling on crutches as a result, resumed the merry-go-round of what life still had to offer.
His semi-paralysed left leg gave him problems, but was never a deterrent, however excruciating the pain.
Bra Tso, lest we forget, was a social giant with a melodramatic nature. A captivating storyteller, he often spiced his narrative with his own exaggerated version.
He will best be remembered as the man who redefined the role of public relations officer – as old-fashioned as it may sound today, it was a highly contested position during the NPSL days of George Thabe.
This was way back in the apartheid and segregated soccer days and long before the likes of Ishmael Bhamjee, who took the public-relations role to another level, came to centre stage.
Bra Tso later became NPSL general manager.
The NPSL was quite influential and significant in black soccer. And Bra Tso was part of the team that was the engine of influence within that NPSL.
It wasn’t until 1992 that South Africa got back into international football.
The spadework had been done and the baton passed on to the likes of Solomon “Stix” Morewa and Molefi Oliphant, among others.
Today we have Irvin Khoza, Kaizer Motaung, Danny Jordaan and so on – they keep on running the relay race to put South Africa on the international soccer map. We should thank Bra Tso for his contribution.
What a colourful character he was... I knew him too well, he was my friend and we shared a lot of brandy – and secrets.
This is a departed soul whose extraordinary life truly needs to be celebrated. ? The PSL offered its condolences to the Modise family and ordered that a moment of silence be observed before all Absa Premiership and National First Division matches yesterday and today. - Len Kalane
Kalane is a former City Press editor