Mbabane: IT would be fair to say that the non-renewal of Sihlangu coach Kostadin Papic’s contract has divided opinion.
Papic officially left the Sihlangu coach seat vacant when his contract expired on December 31 after Eswatini Football Association (EFA) executive decided not to renew the bitter-sweet marriage. There was a lot of optimism among football fanatics when football Chief Adam ‘Bomber’ Mthethwa announced Papic as Sihlangu new coach last December in a press conference at the association’s Sigwaca House.
In all fairness, the optimism reasonably among a handful of supporters had disappeared like morning dew when the sun rises, barely months before the two parties were to engage on renewal on the round table. Despite a string of poor results, no win in 13 matches, insiders close to negotiations divulged to Independent News Sports that the Serbian wanted the football mother body to double his wages for him to commit. From there it was always going to be a tall order for EFA- for the basis that Papic demands were no justified owing to results.
A string of poor results that included the 2022 FIFA World Cup preliminary round exit at the hands of lowly ranked Djibouti and an early COSAFA Cup elimination in a three-group team with regional minnows Mauritius and Comoros has not helped Papic and his believers. Papic is on record saying the defeat to Djibouti was the most painful result in his coaching career.
Reinvigorating Sihlangu to the team they once were three or four years ago under Harries ‘Madze’ Bulunga, now Minister of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs is a difficult task but the Papic and EFA marriage may not been the match made in hell that a handful Sihlangu fans have made it out to be.
Other coaches like Dutch Pieter de Jongh and Egyptian Ayman Alyamany among others had disastrously took the national team to all-time low levels, appearing to have fallen out of love with the project but Papic believed in this group of players as he had continuously noted in media briefings the massive talent in the premier league.
Yes, Papic’s results with Sihlangu do not make for any riveting reading. Actually he may be the worst Sihlangu coach in history, with a zero percent winning rate but a lot things and circumstances go to these things and we outline at least reasons why the Serbian dismally failed with the Sihlangu project…
- FACING BIG TEAMS
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a premier league coach said the criticism on Papic was unjustified taking to consideration the kind of teams he faced in his stay. “Any other coach will have not beaten Tunisia or Senegal or even Zambia. It is a pity that most of his games were against the strongest teams in the continent but obviously there are games you feel we should have done better, especially against Djibouti,” the strategist said.
Djibouti and islanders Mauritius and Comoros are the only teams Sihlangu rank better with that Papic has faced and the rest were far better than us according to the FIFA ranking table.
- LACK OF FRINDLY MATCHES
Honestly, Papic did not have the privilege to play as many practice matches as every coach would have liked. For him (Papic), it was a week preparation before official games as the FA failed to utilize FIFA weeks to hand Papic games. Speaking before embarking on a near impossible return trip to Zambia after losing the first leg to Chipolopolo at Mavuso Sports in a CHAN qualifier, Papic was defensive of his employers- preferring to tell journalists in his press conference that he felt the league matches and their intensity gave his players the perfect preparations.
- LITTLE TIME AT HELM
There is no denying the fact that Sihlangu were playing better football under Papic. The football was pleasing to the eye even though there were critical areas that needed special address like utilizing scoring chances and solving erratic goalkeeping which has been a major let down. Some of these basic football skills are mastered at development stage. By their very nature, coaches will tell you that the first year in a club is dedicated to instilling their tactics and identifying with their players with results only a must on the second year. This then means that evaluating Papic in just his first year in charge was suicidal as that is too little time, especially at national team level to start producing results.
- THE AFRICAN PLAYER
Having worked in African football for quite some time now with Tanzanian giants Young Africans and most notably, neighboring South Africa’s Soweto-based sides Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, there is no denying the fact that Papic understand the ‘African player’. Due to poor development structures on the continent in the past years, history shows us that despite the obvious abundance in talent, African players lack key football aspects like being clinical (as a football match can be decided by one chance), when to rush or delay a pass and doing the most even without touching the ball among other things. Most often, European coaches presume our players had grasp that at an early age which most often than not tear apart dressing rooms.
- FA’S MALADMINISTRATION
The silk-suited souls at Sigwaca House, EFA’s offices inside the capital take a large chunk of Sihlangu ills. The construction of the FIFA funded Technical Centre in Lobamba which is used as Sihlangu base for its preparations was meant to cut considerably costs of the national side and with so much saved from the non-checking ins on hotels, we should not be talking about issues of unpaid players’ allowances at this day and age. Players need to be incentivized, and at the right time to perform their duties. Minister of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs Harries ‘Madze’ Bulunga was spot on when he said during Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini and his team of cabinet meeting with the Editors Forum that Sihlangu problem was not only coaching based but its administration thereof needed to be checked.
- LACK OF FAITH ON INTERNATIONALS
Now, Papic shot himself in the league when he decided to snub international players on the basis that they were not getting enough game time in their respective South African teams and that the locals were much better. To an extant he was right but the truth is that these players get contracts outside the borders because there are the best we have in the country.
- LOCAL COACHES PUT PAPIC UNDER TRAIN
Premier league coaches played a big part in Papic’s failure. Highlighting that he had no power to interfere with coaches job at club level, Papic admitted that he had seen a few players playing two or three positions with each passing game. He was specific on Green Mamba’s Mcolisi Mkhontfo, probably one of the best players in the elite league currently that he has been deployed as a deep lying midfielder, a central role and in other matches as second striker which beat logic according to him. He said the same with Sabelo ‘Sawa’ Gamedze of Mbabane Highlanders. “I see him as a good left back but I go to the stadium in this other match and I see him playing right wing,” Papic said.
PAPIC’S SIHLANGU RECORD
Total matches: 13
PAPIC RESULTS AS SIHLANGU COACH
Eswatini 1 – 4 Senegal (2021 AFCON qualifier)
Guinea-Bissau 3 – 0 Eswatini (2021 AFCON qualifier)
Zambia 2 – 2 Eswatini (CHAN qualifier)
Eswatini 0 – 1 Zambia (CHAN qualifier)
Eswatini 0 – 0 Djibouti (World Cup preliminary)
Djibouti 2 – 1 Eswatini (World Cup preliminary)
Angola 1 – 1 (CHAN qualifier)
Eswatini1 – 1 Angola (CHAN qualifier)
Eswatini 2 – 2 Comoros (COSAFA Cup)
Eswatini 2 – 2 Mauritius (COSAFA Cup)
Malawi 1 – 1 Eswatini (CHAN qualifier)
Eswatini 0 – 0 Malawi (CHAN qualifier)
Tunisia 4 – 0 Eswatini (2019 AFCON qualifier)