Mike Sithole: The Premier League’s “Mr Fix It”

In the annals of Botswana football, Zambian import Mike Sithole stands tall as the coach who transforms league laggards into league leaders and recently promoted sides into marauding cup winners.  BONGANI MALUNGA reports

It is often said that for a coach to be successful, there needs to be an endless supply of resources, support from club management and a shared philosophy with the club’s hierarchy. Be that as it may, there are some coaches who thrive on even the most challenging of situations; the ones who take a broken squad and elevate them to championship contending levels where they even win.
In local football, there are few coaches, foreign or native, who have impacted football the way Mike Sithole has. This Ziambian import has succeeded in turning promising teams into trophy winning sides, often without much of a budget.

Sithole is the only foreign coach to have won trophies with four different clubs in Botswana, a record that is a testament to his ability to thrive in different situations. His first big contribution to football in Botswana was guiding Mochudi Centre Chiefs in their historic 2007/2008 season.

Although he left the club midway through the season, he had set the wheels in motion for them to go the rest of the season unbeaten. ‘Magosi’ were in that healthy condition and position when Beston Chambesi took over and led them to league and cup glory.

The following season, Sithole led Gaborone United to their first league title in 18 years  wrestling the title from his former employers. After years of league heartache, Sithole transformed GU from pretenders to contenders, ending more than a decade of playing second fiddle to their rivals.

A few years later, he was appointed interim coach at Township Rollers, who were enduring a difficult 2011/2012 campaign. He joined them in the second half of the season and led them to success in the Mascom Top 8 where they defeated Ecco City Greens in the finals. Sithole had carried out yet another rescue mission for a side whose nickname of ‘Popa-Popa’ is an integral part of the history of Botswana’s capital.

As the years progressed, the experienced tactician knew that another big opportunity would present itself, and indeed he was called upon to replace Dragojlo Stanojlovic at Chiefs during the 2013/2014 season and managed to steady the ship.

The following season, Sithole led the club to the 2014/2015 BTC Premiership title under difficult circumstances when the welfare of players had become an issue at Magosi. They had not won the league in two years before his arrival.

As the club started to go south in terms of administrative problems, he left for greener pastures. Another opportunity presented itself to Sithole in the form of Jwaneng Galaxy, who were an emerging force in local football. He cemented his place further in local football folklore by helping Galaxy win their first-ever trophy in 2017, the Mascom Top 8.

Once again, he had transformed yet another talented team with potential into a trophy winning side. His last appointment in the league was at Police XI where Sithole inherited a team which had finished 13th in the league in the 2017/2018 season after escaping relegation by a point. After Sithole arrived, he transformed Police XI from relegation sluggards to a top four team in the league within a single season.

They finished fourth in the 2018/2019 season to qualify for the lucrative Mascom Top 8 competition. The team also reached the semifinals of the Orange FA Cup. It is little wonder that Sithole was nominated for the BTC Premiership Coach of the Season award for his impressive performance during that particular season. This season (2019/2020) he parted ways with the club following an indifferent start to the campaign. But although he left on a rather sour note, he made a lasting impression on the fans as he restored their faith in the club.

Gazette Sport had a chat with Sithole last year about his approach to coaching and how he manages to get the best out of players. Although he is from a different era, he stated that he finds great pleasure in learning from players as well and develoing a sense of affinity for them that ensures a positive response to his demands on them on the pitch. He revealed that he is not one to take a disciplinarian’s approach to coaching because it often leads to players revolting.

“Coaching requires one to get to know one’s players; to learn about their lives beyond football,” he noted. “Believe it or not, I learn from them as well. Coaching is all about evolving, and the best way to evolve is to be in touch with the modern changes of the world, including the lifestyle of players. Being a disciplinarian does not work in today’s game. My approach is different and I believe it tends to work well.” While his next move may be unknown, one thing is certain – success. It seems to follow him wherever he goes.