Orlando Pirates not just another club for Mamelodi Sundowns’ Rulani Mokwena

Orlando Pirates assistant coach Rulani Mokwena and head coach Milutin Sredojevic gestures during the ABSA premiership against Maritzburg United at Orlando Stadium

File. Back in the day when Rulani Mokwena served as an assistant to Orlando Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 17, 2024


Orlando Pirates will always have a special place in Rulani Mokwena’s heart, but he’ll always put the interests of his current home Mamelodi Sundowns first.

Mokwena hails from a paternal lineage of footballing talents as his grandfather Eric Sono, father Julius, and uncle Jomo, donned the famous Pirates jersey.

The 36-year-old also followed in those rich footsteps at the club, spending three years at Pirates – two as an assistant coach and one as an interim head coach – many years ago now.

However, they didn’t yield a fulfilling outcome that Mokwena returned to Sundowns where he was – and continued to be - a multi-award winning assistant coach.

Building a legacy at Sundowns

Fast track to the current season. Mokwena is in his second season as the head coach of Downs as he continues to make a name for himself away from his family’s shadow.

And should all go according to plan, Mokwena will win his second successive title as the coach of the club. He won the last four in a row as either an assistant or co-coach.

But to achieve that feat his team will have to continue their rich vein of form – the Brazilians are unbeaten in the DStv Premiership since the start of the season.

This will include Sundowns resuming the season on a high when they host Mokwena’s beloved Pirates at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria on Saturday (8pm kick-off).

Mokwena, speaking at the pre-match press conference this week, admitted that this will always be an emotional game given his history and what’s at stake.

“The good thing is I always talk to the players before we play Pirates. I always say, ‘forgive me’ because I know my emotions will hit the roof top,” Mokwena said.

“I am not the same coach when we prepare for Pirates, they know that. They know me very well. Unfortunately, it’s one of those games where there’s too much to it.

“So, it becomes very difficult to become less emotional. There are still people at the club (Pirates) that I fully respect and like.”

Respect for Khoza

These people include chairman Irvin Khoza. Khoza didn’t only bring Mokwena home at some point, but he’s one of the people that Mokwena idolises.

Mokwena was in awe of the way both Sundowns and Pirates handled the transfer of talisman Thembinkosi Lorch to the Brazilians during the January transfer window.

“The chairman is someone that will always be very special to me. And the club itself from a family perspective has many connotations to my family,” Mokwena said.

“What some of the members of my family are today is because of Orlando Pirates. So, I can never go into a space where I can ever disrespect Pirates.

“The first person that would fight me is my late grandfather, he would turn in his grave. Every time I must show respect and humility towards Orlando Pirates.”

But it ends there. Mokwena is a Brazilian through and through and will wear his heart on his sleeve when they host the Sea Robbers.

A win from that match, after all, will see Downs crawl closer to the title as they’d extend the gap between them and Pirates to 16 points and two games in hand.

“Of course, my allegiance and responsibility now are towards Mamelodi Sundowns and I have to give everything to make sure that we are ready (to compete),” he said.

‘I love Sundowns’

“But also, to make sure that we win – that’s the mentality: to give the best that I can to the club that I love because I love Mamelodi Sundowns.

“And I want Sundowns to win every single match and trophy. Before I am a Sundowns coach, I am a Sundowns fan because of the love I have grown to develop for this club.”

Other weekend Premiership Fixtures:

Saturday – 3.30pm: Moroka Swallows v Polokwane City, Chippa United v Cape Town City. 5.30pm: Cape Town Spurs v AmaZulu, Sekhukhune United v Richards Bay.

Sunday – 3.30pm: Royal AM v Kaizer Chiefs. 5.30pm: TS Galaxy v Golden Arrows.