Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena says the recent criticism against the likes of Teboho Mokoena and Thabiso Kutumela is unwarranted as they fulfil the instructions of the technical team.

Kutumela, who earned a start against Orlando Pirates was questioned by sections of the club’s supporters while Bafana Bafana midfielder Mokoena has earned criticism for his lack of goals and assists.

The 25-year-old who joined Masandawana in a high-profile move from Tshwane rivals SuperSport United in January, has, however, been leading the team’s charts in distance covered, most sprints, most passes and most interceptions in his role that serves as a link between the midfield, full-backs and forwards.

But Mokwena feels one needs to question where the criticism stems from and whether those who are criticising understand the roles these players fulfil in the new system they have implemented for the 2022/23 season.

“It’s going to happen, [criticism] is going to happen, this is one of the sports where we’ve got incredible possibilities to have and to generate wisdom and intelligence but lacking experience and knowledge,” Mokwena said.

“Sometimes you have to allow it because now you’re also in a space of social media, the space of people having opinions but having opinions that in the past, you would have needed to have been somebody who has some form of history in the subject, to be given the platform to speak on tv, to speak on radio or to be interviewed in the newspaper about your opinions.

“But today, because I have a smartphone, all I have to do is just go on Twitter and then I just express my opinion. And at times, it happens without the background of research and knowledge – and then it goes into a completely different space.

“What you then begin to pick up is [a] regenerate mentality that lacks independent thinking. Because all I have to do now is like or retweet your opinion and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s my opinion but because I like what you’ve just said, I join the bandwagon.

“And then all of a sudden something trends and that’s how you start to develop a society of people that look at things… and it becomes a lot easier to judge, instead of [trying] to understand.”

Mokwena went on to state there are some intricacies in the way they set up and ‘want to work’ in possession and without possession and while they didn’t register a shot on target against Pirates, he felt some of the players produced pleasing performances.

“I don’t blame people because sometimes for the players I feel sorry… but sometimes people have an opinion about a performance of a player but when you watch it as a coach you’re like my goodness, what a performance, you know,” he continued.

“Against Pirates, for example, our positioning was top in the first half, we might not have used the ball very well but we dominated the pitch and that’s why even the duels, the second balls and the things when the ball wasn’t falling nicely and people were slipping.

We always had a player close by to counter-press. We had a player to help or to poke the ball out of situations where it could have easily transcended into situations where Pirates could create something.

“But because we were in the right positions we were able to dominate the pitch and that’s what we want. But then again we want to dominate the ball and sometimes that’s not going to happen.

“It’s not going to happen all the time against every single opponent because there are certain games where we need a different type of attacker for example. Against Chiefs, we couldn’t play a different type of striker, we needed a Gaston.

“But people would say oh… against Pirates, with the back-three, there’s a profile of striker we need, and then, of course, you look at the tactic, you look at the opposition, then you look at what we’re trying to do and we’re fortunate enough to be able to have this horses for courses type of approach.”

He went on to suggest that he’s hopeful that the players take heed of the fact that he’s one of the most criticised figures in South African football on social media and takes an example that it doesn’t affect him and that he continues to give his best to help the club remain successful.

“So the players know they are going to get criticised, I get criticised a lot, I get killed a lot but it’s because I never hide. I never hide, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I give the best that I always can and when we lose, I put myself in front of the bullets,” Mokwena added.

“Without a bulletproof vest because that is how I was taught by my late grandmother, that leaders lead in difficult moments from the front and then in the good moments as Nelson Mandela said, you take a step back and you allow people…

“But that puts you in the forefront of the criticism and the forefront of the bullets and I’ve learnt to deal with that – hopefully my experiences, what they see me going through, gives them strength to be able to handle the criticism.

“I get criticised and bashed every single day but they see me come to training every single day and giving my best, never doubts himself, never doubts his capacity. But understands that we live in a world where we have to respect people’s opinions.

“And at this moment this is what they have to do and it’s going to get worse because of the advancements of society, the advancements of technology. It’s going to get worse for them so that is it. Hopefully, they are strong enough to withstand and continue to put trust in the process.

“At the end of the day what is important is what they do for the club and how they carry their responsibilities and duties from a tactical perspective with regards to the game plan and what they do on the pitch.

“The opinions of the people in this building [at Chloorkop] the opinions of the people that coach them, the people that they meet every single day. Those are the opinions that matter the most and at times they sometimes need to be reminded of that.”


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