03/26/2012 2:18 AM
IT’S a big leap to move from having a walkie-talkie as your main instrument of trade to carrying a file under your arm to a board of directors’ meeting.
David Thidiela has made that step up in style. His is a servant-to-king tale that not even the Black Leopards boss would have envisioned not so long ago.
Yet such are the rewards of “serving a faithful God” and chasing after one’s dreams that Thidiela not only runs his own club, but is in charge of one that is South Africa’s sole representative in Caf competition. And the elation of Lidoda Duvha’s boss at this historic milestone knows no bounds.
“This is very exciting for us. It’s an opportunity to expose the team, a chance for the players to make history and we’re going to make the best of it,” he said.
That the threat of relegation looms large does not bother him: “Many soccer fundis are saying we should focus on one thing, survival. But I have much bigger ambitions than that.
“I know we will not go down. What I want is to see Leopards being like Barcelona one day,” he said, without a hint of irony in his voice, before referring to the club’s maiden promotion to the elite league to show his is not a pipe-dream.
“When we got promoted, Coach Gavin Hunt wanted me to buy experienced players, and I told him I didn’t have money. Also, I had promised the boys they would enjoy milk and honey if they got promoted, and I was not about to go back on my word.
“We kept those boys and they did well for the club. I strongly believe that when you want something and you go for it with all you have, you will get it. I want my club to be the giants of South African football,” said Thidiela.
Most will point to what appears to be a lack of professionalism in his running of the club – with technical interference on his part, a high turnover of coaches as well as improper treatment of players almost always mentioned in the same breath as his club – as a huge stumbling block towards him realising his ambitions. He says there are no such issues.
“I am an employer and when I have a coach, we sit down and design the contract. So how can I be interfering in a place where I design the job descriptions?
“But the coaches … run to you guys in the media and complain that I am interfering … why do they only complain when they’ve left the club? And let me tell you, I’ve never fired a coach. The coaches don’t meet their contract obligations and they have to leave.”
He argues that the media treats clubs differently.
“You guys are not fair to me … you overlook bigger mistakes made by the other clubs. You promote certain clubs over others. If you treated us all equally, things would be different. All the media does is promote certain individuals and certain clubs, you don’t promote football,” he said.
A former security head of the league, Thidiela now sits at the same table with the men he used to serve. And while he is content with the change, he feels most are not.
“Some people just can’t have their garden boy sitting on the same table with them. I sometimes sense it is the same with me.
“Some people are asking themselves, is this the man who used to be our guard? And they don’t seem to like that I am now on equal footing with them. It is very difficult for Irvin (Khoza) to accept. It is difficult for Kaizer (Motaung) to accept. Because I was their boy. But I am my own person. I know that God has a plan for me and no one will stand in His way.”
His club’s return to the elite league is his “proudest moment in the game” and he says everything was done to try to stop the comeback: “We returned under very difficult circumstances. There was protest after protest, most of them unfounded and we were not even in the draw for the play-offs as there was still an appeal.
“On the eve of a big match, stories are written that I don’t pay my players. But we came through despite all that. Even before this, there were commissions of enquiries against me as people tried to destroy me. But that won’t happen. I was a servant of the league, but God pulled me up. And no one will stop God’s plan for me and my club.”
And that plan, he says, is for Leopards to be local giants. It could be said that their being the country’s sole representative in continental competition makes them giants.
Note that this interview was done by THE STAR newspaper.