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LEOPARD, ‘BUFFS’ FETCH EDWIN, MNISI FROM U-17 CAMP

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MBABANE – Both Edwin Matsebula and Sabelo Mnisi are head coaches for reigning MTN Premier League champions Royal Leopard and runners-up last season, Young Buffaloes.

On top of that, Matsebula is the country’s National Under-17 boys squad coach, which is currently in camp while Mnisi is his assistant. Both experts had to abandon the squad’s full-time camp for their teams who were engaged in the league opening matches; Leopard hosting Mbabane Swallows at Mavuso Sports Centre while Buffaloes were home to Mbabane Highlanders in Nhlangano at the King Sobhuza II Memorial Stadium. Swallows lost 0-1, while Highlanders won 2-1. The coaches left camp after their clubs required their presence last Thursday ahead of the tough battles. Impeccable sources said the way the coaches left the Eswatini Football Association (EFA) Technical Centre in Lobamba left a bitter taste in the mouth.

Contracts

Worth noting is that the EFA does not give full-time contracts to national junior squads coaches at the moment, but only the senior team, Sihlangu Semnikati, which is under coach Dominic Kunene. “After they had left the squad, they were left with the members of the technical bench and mind you, this is full-time camp ahead of games that start in a couple of weeks or so,” said a source.

Matsebula is expected to lead the junior squad alongside Mnisi in this year’s COSAFA Under-17 Youth Championships to be also played as part of the Region Five Youth Games 2020 in Lesotho as of November 30. They open the tournament with a midday fixture against Zimbabwe at the Setsoto Stadium. Other rivals in Eswatini’s Group A are Lesotho and Madagascar, but only the top team after the round robin games goes through to the semi-finals. The tournament runs from November 30 to December 9 – just how long the two head coaches of two clubs with their eyes on the league title can be away.

For Matsebula and Leopard, it gets worse as the police team also has the TOTALEnergies CAF Confederation Cup two-legged play-off against Algeria’s JS Kabyile. The first leg is scheduled for November 28 at Mavuso Sports Centre in Manzini when the national junior team plays two days later in Lesotho. The CAF second leg will be played away in Algeria on December 5, same day Eswatini play the last group match in the COSAFA/Region 5 Youth Games.

“It’s above my scope but when we discovered the clash of dates last week ,we realised that we’d have to meet the EFA. We also had a league game so clearly we’ll meet the EFA and forge a way forward as we are confident it’ll be resolved. The EFA has helped us in a lot of situations so this will be discussed and sorted out,” Ingwe Mabalabala’s (Leopard) PRO Hurube diplomatically responded. He said their CAF dates clashed head-on with the national squad’s dates but Matsebula was not even their only coach with the squad. “We also have Mphikeleli in the squad so it is possible that the EFA gives us Edwin and remain with Mphikeleli, we won’t ask for both coaches,” he said.

The Leopard coach had a rough weekend last Saturday as he was involved in on-field violence before police whisked him out of the stadium in their van as Swallows supporters bayed for his blood. He had already been implicated by the referee’s report alongside team doctor, Gcina Hleta. Buffaloes’ CEO Sandile Gwebu, whose side may also have to play their domestic games without Mnisi during that period unless the PLE opts for a break, was not immediately available for comment. EFA Communications and Marketing Officer Muzi Radebe’s response to the national squad being left without both coaches and the clash in dates between the COSAFA/Region 5 Games and Leopard’s CAF games was that the EFA had a contingency plan.

“What is important is that the team trained. The coaches are part time in the squads and their teams had league games but it doesn’t mean the squad didn’t continue with its programme as they work on one by the coaches. A national team has many coaches so the boys were not alone as they trained and they will go to the competition even if Matsebula stays behind. The EFA always has a contingency plan in place,” he responded.

Meanwhile, there had been precedent cases before whereby top clubs would be accused of invading the senior national team Sihlangu Semnikati camp for their players ahead of games. Serbian coach, Kostadin Papic was left bemused more than once as some security forces teams would send officials to force players out of Sihlangu camp during his tenure in 2019. The security forces dominated the senior squad with Buffaloes and Leopard the core of the entire team.

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