New player-manager is yet to prove himself

What a difference a year makes. The whole country is enjoying a new manager bounce.

This time last winter a David v Goliath contest began to unfold when sleeping giant Cyrildinho ventured into the zone of uncertainty.

Pundits claimed he would come a cropper against trophy-holder Jacob “The Elephant” Zumario, who had been almost unplayable in his day.

Zumario’s “Ewags” (ex-wife and girlfriends) dubbed the challenger a dead man walking, but in a long match they failed to put away the ball.

It was The Elephant who received his marching orders: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Crashing out of the competition in December, Zumario was forced to hang up his boots for good. With his clinical finishing, Cyrildinho had played a blinder.

It has been a baptism of fire, but possession is nine-tenths of the game. “CR”, as his fans call him, always reaches for the skies and never gives less than 110%.

The Brazil-influenced coach has brought veteran stylists Nenê and Gordhanio off the bench. He has slowed the flow of the game. Video assistant referee (VAR) Mogoengio Mogoengio has levelled the playing field in provincial red-card incidents.

Loyal to whoever is coach, head of elections Mbaks “Preservativo Explodindo” Mbalululio is a midfield terrier who covers literally every blade of grass on the pitch.

Fitness coach Gwede “Big Suits” Mantashio is running his socks off, using his notoriously low centre of gravity to deny “The Ace” control of the Luthuli Training Centre.

Form is temporary, while class is permanent. Cyrildinho is a playmaker who can control the pace of the game. If the team consistently deploys his ideological zonal marking system he could literally take the minnows to the cleaners in 2019.

The Blues and the Red Berets are in a relegation dogfight. Despite a giant-killer reputation, the Berets have been left red-faced by their travelling circus of hooligans. Julius Malemalario has proved to be a bit of a handful, but the young lion keeps pulling on his old team’s shorts. Spokesman Mbuyesenio Ndlozi insists that “we have had no bids for Malemalario … it would take silly money for him to leave”.

But locker-room gossip suggests the striker slammed a “derisory bid” from his old side, and the two clubs remain “miles apart” over the size of the fee.

The Blues have also been under the microscope.

“Dancing Queen” Helen Zilleria is as sick as a parrot.

Patricia de Lillio is back in the transfer zone after being frozen out by her team. There has been no shortage of suitors, with even the Red Berets mulling a bid. After going 2-0 up in the Western Cape High Court this week, she could be headed for the dreaded transfer limbo. She may have to start blowing her own vuvuzela once again.

If Cyrildinho lifts the Cup in 2019, the caretaker manager will start firing on all cylinders at last. Laggards will get the hairdrier treatment. There will be a flurry of yellow cards and a raft of substitutions. This time SA is literally in the last-chance saloon, but the fans will never stop believing. It’s always the hope that kills you.

Leading a team is a marathon and not a sprint. The new manager will have to grind out a result at whatever cost, and his fresh legs could help him go the distance. Cyrildinho certainly looks good on paper, but he will need to score to win.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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