Eymael slips in under the radar

Luc Eymael, former coach of Free State Stars (Chris Ricco/BackpagePix)

Orlando Pirates’ Milutin Sredojevic deservedly won his Absa Premiership Coach-of-the-Month award for January on Monday, but there is another coach who is my early candidate for Coach-of-the-Season, even if he cannot ultimately guide his team to a miraculous league title success.

Free State Stars mentor Luc Eymael is doing an extraordinary job this season, the Belgian keeping his side well in the title race, as they prepare to take on leaders Mamelodi Sundowns tomorrow evening.

With all due respect to Pitso Mosimane at Sundowns, Sredojevic at Pirates, and Steve Komphela at Kaizer Chiefs, a challenge for the title is what we should expect every season from sides with their resources. It is safe to say no one would have expected that of Stars at the start of the season, yet they will go above Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs into second in the table, just three points behind Masandwana, if they can somehow beat Pitso Mosimane’s men tomorrow.

Eymael arrived in South Africa in 2016 as head coach of Polokwane City, a man not well-known to South Africans, but with a respectable CV on the continent that had seen him coach clubs in DR Congo, Gabon, Algeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan. He did pretty well at City, guiding them to fifth in the league, but then came a controversial resignation that was not accepted by City, who won a case preventing him from taking up the reins at Bloemfontein Celtic.

Once Eymael finally negotiated his way out of his City contract, one half of the Free State’s loss has been the other’s gain, as Stars have enjoyed a tremendous season almost ever since he took over from Sammy Troughton, sacked just two games into the 2017/18 campaign.

Eymael comes across as a little arrogant at times, to be frank, but he is backing that up with results. Stars did lose his first two league games in charge, to Sundowns and Baroka, but since then there have been just three losses in 16 Premiership games, as Ea Lla Koto have surged up the table.

There is a healthy dose of Absa Premiership experience that Stars have brought in, with the likes of former Orlando Pirates defenders Rooi Mahamutsa and Patrick Phungwayo, and it has come to the fore in the New Year, as Stars have kept four clean sheets in five games, with the obvious blip a 3-0 loss at home to Maritzburg United. The well-travelled former Chiefs and Pirates striker Siphelele Mthembu has also thrown his weight around in attack with a couple of key goals, while Goodman Dlamini in midfield has done well in his second season at the club.

It remains to be seen, as I have said, if Stars can sustain their challenge for the title, with other squads boasting far greater resources, but if Eymael can finish in the top four or five, and go deep in the Nedbank Cup, he will have to be a candidate to be named as the best coach of the lot, whoever finishes above him.





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