Jomo Sono: top player, top coach

Jomo Sono, affectionately known as “the Black Prince”, has enjoyed success both as a superbly skilled player and as a coach with an astute eye for talent.

Sono, the player, displayed a creative flair, an ability to tear teams apart with defence-splitting passes or to turn defenders inside out with a sublime display of individual skill.

A complete player, he could control the game from midfield, either by playing deep and laying on passes for his team mates or by rattling the opposition defence by running at them with the ball. His all-round ability was even visible in front of goal; he could either curl a shot beyond the reach of a despairing goalkeeper or blast it past him with a powerful shot.

Played alongside Pele

Sono, together with Kaizer Motaung, the founder of South Africa’s most famous club Kaizer Chiefs, played part of his career in the United States alongside the game’s greatest player, Pele, at New York Cosmos. Motaung plied his trade with the Atlanta Chiefs.

When the two South African stars returned home, they both formed clubs named after their American teams. Sono bought the Highlands Park Football Club and renamed it Jomo Cosmos. The side plays in the Premier Soccer League to this day.

With Sono at the helm, Cosmos has, with monotonous regularity, unearthed some of the best football talent in South Africa. There has tended to be a sizeable turnover of that talent because of big money being thrown at the players Sono discovered. His excellent eye has always uncovered stars to replace the former stars who had moved on.

Grooming players for overseas success

In addition, he has always encouraged his players to pursue careers overseas. Examples of his success include former national team players Mark Fish, Philemon Masinga and Helman Mkhalele, all of whom went on to earn themselves lucrative contracts with European clubs.

Although Cosmos have won only the Bobsave Super Bowl in 1990 and the National Soccer League title in 1987, Sono’s club has consistently finished among the top teams in the country’s Premier League.

Besides his role as a top talent spotter, Sono’s role as a top coach has never been in question. In fact, the former midfield ace helped the national team out as a technical adviser during the victorious 1996 African Cup of Nations campaign. One of the finest jobs he has yet done was in 1998 when he was appointed caretaker coach of Bafana Bafana just before the African Cup of Nations finals.

A remarkable feat

Coach PhilippeTroussier had been sacked just before the event. With the coaching team in disarray, many experts predicted a disastrous showing for South Africa in Burkina Faso. They were wrong. Under Sono’s guidance the side made it all the way to the finals where they lost to Egypt. It had been a remarkable feat given the circumstances.

After a dismal performance by Bafana Bafana at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali, Sono was appointed as technical director to the team. There were, however, differences between the Black Prince and coach Carlos Queiroz. The SA Football Association threw their weight behind Sono and, in a decision similar to the one made in 1998, he was appointed caretaker coach for the 2002 World Cup.

South Africa’s national football team may not have progressed beyond the first round in Korea and Japan, but five goals, one win, one draw and a 3-2 thriller against tournament favourites Spain did more than erase the disappointment of Mali.

Radebe credits Sono

Much of the credit for South Africa’s performances went to Sono, with skipper Lucas Radebe saying that Sono had “instilled a spirit that wasn’t there before under many previous coaches. The atmosphere among the squad at this World Cup has been better than on most other occasions over the ten years I have been playing international football.”

Sono said the team could return home with their heads held high: “This is maybe the best South African team ever, certainly better than four years ago. In another four years I think we will qualify for the second phase.”

While Sono obviously loves the role he plays with his club, he says his God-given talent is that of talent spotter. The steady stream of exports from Jomo Cosmos to football league’s around the world bears corroborating testimony to Sono’s claim.

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