When Lamontville Golden Arrows joined the MultiChoice Diski Challenge (MDC) at the start of the season, few would have expected them to emerge as champions at the end of it.
Promoted from the National First Division (NFD), they were making their debuts in the Reserve League.
The coach himself, Vusimuzi Vilakazi, a former player who also serves as club media officer, was a man venturing into unchartered territory in terms of mentoring players.
But the 33-year-old has come through with flying colours after leading his young charges to the title in Soweto over the weekend.
The PSL caught up with Abafana Bes’thende’s rookie coach.
PSL: Firstly, congratulations on a fantastic achievement. If we rewind six months, you were a young, inexperienced coach, in your first job, thrown into the deep end. Did you ever envisage yourself winning this trophy?
Vusimuzi Vilakazi (VV): “Not at all. Obviously when the season started, we never focussed on the championship. We looked at it as a platform to grow everyone that was associated with the concept. But if you are carrying out the principals of football correctly, you will find that you do well. I think after about seven games we then realised that ‘hey, we can win this’. But we still never got too excited and tried to stick to the principals that got us there.”
PSL: What does winning this trophy mean to the club?
VV: “It’s a very good thing and shows we are doing something right. Considering we were in the NFD last year, we have proved that it can be done. We’ve won a very big trophy, and a very heavy one too. This should serve as an inspiration to our players, and even the senior ones in the first team. If these boys can do it, without being given much chance, then so can they.”
PSL: Personally it means you have won something in your first season as a coach. How satisfying is that?
VV: “For myself as a young coach, the first time in the MDC and winning a championship medal…it’s unbelievable. It also gives me a massive amount of encouragement because you know when you start something and then fail, you start doubting yourself. But when thigs go well, it’s a big encouragement like it has been so far this year. So it’s a good feeling to win, I am still learning every day from the head coaches. I think going forward I will take the coaching very seriously because I believe I’ve got the potential.”
PSL:Who is your inspiration as a coach?
VV: “I don’t want to single anyone out, but I’ve learnt from all the coaches that have been here over the years, the likes of Khabo Zondo, Muhsin Ertugral, and all of them. As you know I’ve been here for over 15 years now, from my playing days, so they’ve all thought me something. Even as a player, I always learnt from the former coaches.”
PSL: You were obviously competing with Sundowns most of the way. But there was a stage when they overtook you after your form dipped. Did your heads drop at that time?
VV: “The only game we lost was after the break when we were rusty to be honest. But even after we fell behind Sundowns, we never gave up. We recovered from that and stayed on the heels of Sundowns, hoping they would slip up and they did. We always told ourselves that we will fight, whether we win the championship or not.”
PSL:Can you share with us some of your thoughts on MDC?
VV: “The MDC is purely about development. It is a platform where players have the freedom to express themselves. In the PSL, it’s a bit different because you have to play according to the situation. The stakes obviously dictate that. That’s why you find that skilful players in the PSL are very few. They are there, but they’re not allowed that freedom. That is why I enjoy the MDC, it’s a great competition and allows for the development of players by giving them opportunities.”
PSL:With that in mind, can you talk to us a bit about your interesting selection policy. Obviously clubs are allowed to field three over 23 players in games, but you chose mainly not to. Why?
VV: “The reason being we had many youngsters on our books and needed to give all the opportunity. It worked well I feel. I think we only used two senior players all season, one was the central defender Nkosinathi Zitha and we used Mabhuti Khenyeza for one game. I think it will hamper the progress of the young players if we have to pick the senior players regularly, it was system that worked and one we are proud of.”
PSL:There have been reports in the past few days that other clubs are sniffing around to try and recruit some of your young starlets. Can you shed more light on that?
VV: “Yes, there are other clubs interested in our boys, but obviously this is our development and we are grooming these boys for our first team. That is the priority. We can’t sell them because one way or the other, they need to pay back to the club.”
PSL: There have been a number of stand-out performers through the season for you. But who has stood out for you in this team and is someone you can say, ‘Wow! This boy is going places’?
VV: “That is Nduduzo Sibiya (who scored the title-clinching goal against Free State Stars). When we started he wasn’t at that level, but along the way he’s grown. He’s become a very strong player and a real weapon for us. He’s taken about four man-of-the-match awards, all mainly in the second half of the campaign. He’s been here for quite some time and has really developed.
“I think this has stemmed from his hunger to succeed, he knows now what it takes and has worked very hard towards it. I must also mention Sibusiso Sibeko and the twins (Seth and Kaleb Parusnath) as well, there’s about seven players that are certain to be promoted to the first team at the end of the season.”
PSL: Next stop the Netherlands, which is the prize for the winners. A week-long trip to the European country and some matches against development teams from clubs there. Looking forward to it?
VV: “For sure everyone is and they are very excited ahead of the trip. We leave on March 18 and I myself am excited as well and we’re looking forward to learning from playing against other development teams there in Netherlands.”