FINDING THE NET
MNINAWA NTLOKO: Put away the silly outfits — derby football is back
There was a time when the Soweto derby was in danger of residing in the same WhatsApp group as the Durban July.
The outrageous outfits few people would ever wear in real life usually dominate the headlines of the horse-racing event and the winner of the race itself is usually the furthest thing from the minds of some of those at Greyville.
Hell, I often ask people who’ve attended the event to name one horse, never mind the winner, and I’m usually greeted by blank stares.
The marquee match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates has been in danger of going the same route in recent times as the football started to be overshadowed by the crazy fashion.
There were times when the football didn’t live up to expectation as the two teams regularly played to boring draws — the game became known as the drawby — reducing Southern Africa’s biggest game into nothing more than a social gathering.
That all changed a few days ago when the football staged a remarkable comeback and reclaimed the match from the Instagram stories and selfies.
Pirates assistant coach Rulani Mokwena set things up nicely at the beginning of last week when he departed from the familiar script and fired a salvo at the opposition.
Previous pre-match media events had been marked by polite speeches and measured responses that would not have been out of place at a church discussion group.
He threw enough shade on coach Giovanni Solinas’s tactical acumen to ruffle feathers at Naturena and suggested that Chiefs do not have enough of the chutzpah the club effortlessly oozed under the erstwhile mentor.
A fired-up Mokwena dispensed with the usual niceties and suggested that Chiefs was missing former coach Steve Komphela’s football smarts. He threw enough shade on coach Giovanni Solinas’s tactical acumen to ruffle feathers at Naturena and suggested that Chiefs do not have enough of the chutzpah the club effortlessly oozed under the erstwhile mentor.
Mokwena was not done and further claimed that Chiefs star Khama Billiat had been on Pirates’ radar before he had signed for the Naturena side a few months ago.
He claimed Bucs decided against signing him due to his injury history and "other" questions‚ seemingly referring to challenges with lifestyle issues. As if that was not enough, he also suggested that Colombian striker Leonardo Castro was not available for the match and was more likely to spend last Saturday with his wife than on the FNB Stadium pitch. The dig was an obvious reference to the player’s tendency to return to South America when he was injured during his days at Sundowns.
Mokwena’s barbs dominated the derby discussions the whole week and he succeeded in whipping up a frenzy that has not been seen in a long time. Tellingly, the comments had the desired effect on the intended recipient because Solinas couldn’t resist firing a salvo of his own at Mokwena towards the end of the week.
"My colleague is ‘Micho’ [Pirates’ head coach Milutin Sredojevic]. Micho is a professional and I am a professional," retorted Solinas.
"So me‚ I respect my colleague. I don’t know him [Mokwena]. But maybe it was also the journalists who created this. Because I was very surprised. Normally the coaches don’t talk in this manner."
So the stage was set for a fiery encounter and the players didn’t disappoint.
It was a passionate encounter reminiscent of some of the great derbies of the past and each touch of the ball elicited a thunderous reaction from the stands.
Sitting inside that stadium, just outside Soweto, during those 90 minutes was an amazing thrill and the game demonstrated SA football’s potential on a good day.
Pirates eventually emerged 2-1 winners and in true derby nature, they have been lifted by the win, while Chiefs suddenly appear to be in complete disarray after the defeat.
Solinas is the biggest loser as the result has served to cast question marks over his fitness to occupy what is one of the most pressured seats in the country’s sport. And what of the man who started it all in the beginning of last week?
Well, Pirates fans say he’s been proven right and he’s managed to win something more precious than the three points — respect.
This derby and the accompanying rivalry is alive and kicking, isn’t it?
• Follow Ntloko on Twitter at @ntlokom