One of the main positives for SuperSport United and Eric Tinkler, following the disappointment of losing the Caf Confederation Cup final to TP Mazembe, has to be that they have had little time to wallow in self-pity.
There was a league game at home to Ajax Cape Town on Wednesday, which yielded a rugged 1-0 win, as Matsatsantsa began to play catch-up in the Absa Premiership.
On top of that, the Tshwane side have already started preparation for next year’s Confederation Cup.
“Last night, we started discussing registration for next year’s Confed Cup,” Tinkler told the Saturday Citizen on Thursday, ahead of a rare weekend off for SuperSport in a hectic 2017.
“The tournament has just ended but we are already preparing for next year. It does [help], I tried to explain to the players that you need to take all the positives from the experience you have had, it just makes you stronger and better, and if you have a never-say-die attitude, you can go into the next competition with the same aim [to win it], but better prepared.”
If anyone would know about taking positives from defeat in a continental final, it should be Tinkler.
As a player, the battling midfielder won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations with Bafana Bafana but in his time as a coach, his record in Caf club competitions reads three finals, three defeats.
The first came as an assistant to Roger De Sa at Orlando Pirates in the 2013 Caf Champions League final against Al-Ahly.
Then, after taking the reins at the Buccaneers, Tinkler lost the 2015 Caf Confederation Cup final to Etoile Du Sahel.
And then another runners-up medal this year with Matsatsantsa.
It is hardly all doom and gloom, however. Tinkler has won two domestic Cup finals in the last year or so, the 2016 Telkom Knockout with Cape Town City and the 2017 MTN8 with SuperSport.
Simply reaching Cup finals on the continent is impressive. So, how does Tinkler make that final step and pick up a gold medal as a coach on the continent?
He is adamant his side can match any team in Africa and first targets referees when asked what it will take to finally get a side over the winning line.
“This is probably very controversial, but you have to have a look at the final [against Mazembe] and where the referees came from,” he says.
“That is a disappointment from my side. A lot of the time, as coaches, we are criticised in terms of our tactics and how we decided to play. But most of the time, decisions go against us because of the refereeing, not because of the tactics, that is the sad part.”
“I thought the referees in Lubumbashi [for the first leg] were very good, they were from Algeria, that is neutral in my opinion. “But here, the referees were from Senegal and after all that has taken place with Senegal, with Bafana having to replay that game, you start to question that. I think also, to a degree, against Etoile [with Pirates in 2015], you had referees coming from North Africa. Football is not like rugby, you would like something more neutral.”
Against Mazembe, SuperSport lost 2-1 in Lubumbashi and could only draw 0-0 in Atteridgeville, in a fractious game that saw a player from each side sent off, and both teams fined by Caf after TP Mazembe’s fans invaded the pitch to celebrate their win.
Tinkler acknowledged that his side could have done far more to score a goal in Tshwane, but also continued to question whether Matsatsantsa were treated fairly over the two legs.
“You say to yourself, with the behaviour of the players from TP Mazembe [in the second leg], the time-wasting, with the behaviour of their fans … if you go back to our visit to Mazembe there was a blackout, people’s phones were confiscated, then we allow them to come and behave the way they do? You have to say hold on, we are expected to show humility and respect?
It needs to go both ways. “If you take away everything and just talk about what is happening between the lines, I believe we can beat any team in Africa.
“What is worse is that, nothing is done about it, it is swept under the carpet, then we are surprised when South African clubs don’t want to play, and at the fact that the competition doesn’t generate sponsorship and interest.
“We all have a responsibility to ensure that Caf competitions are of a high standard but right now, I don’t think they are. You understand the decisions behind clubs not wanting to participate, it ends up being a huge financial burden.”
“I still want to win this, that has always been my ambition, to win on the African continent, because I believe I am more than capable of doing that if we can create a level playing field.”