Eric Tinkler, Maritzburg United’s coach, has sent a warning to all the southern African nations set to compete at the Cosafa Cup in Durban next week: “Do not bother including my players in your squads.”
Having just secured The Team of Choice a fighting chance to stay in the Absa Premiership with a 1-1 draw at Baroka FC, Tinkler was forthright about what he thought about the competition.
“The Cosafa Cup, to me, means nothing. Those requests are going to fall on deaf ears. If any of our players are called for the Cosafa Cup, I am going to say ‘NO’.”
Tinkler is not being a prima donna. Far from it, as Maritzburg will be involved in a fight for their lives when the Cosafa Cup takes place. And the promotional play-offs with the two National First Division (NFD) sides, Royal Eagles and TTM, should rightly take precedence for everyone at the Midlands club.
Considered dead and buried at the half-way stage of the season, Maritzburg received a new lease of life when Tinkler took over with 12 matches to go.
It looked a mammoth task, but Tinkler has always been one to tread where angels fear to go. And true to character, he lit a fire in the Maritzburg players’ bellies, and on Saturday owner Farook Kadodia took a team and a sizeable crowd to the Limpopo capital with the belief that he would still be the chairman of an elite league club.
They came close to achieving that thanks to a Fortune Makaringe first-half goal, but they failed to defend it as Mduduzi Mdantsane equalised midway through the second half.
However, that draw keeps them afloat, with Maritzburg now having to contest the four-match round robin-style play-offs.
Typically, Tinkler is up for he fight even though he acknowledges it is going to be a tough challenge.
“Playing NFD teams is a different ballgame, you’ve got to have a different mindset. My fear is that you start lowering your level, and you can’t afford to. You’ve got to maintain your professional standards, your PSL standards. If you can do that, you can best the NFD teams,” he said. “But if you drop your level of the game, then you’re going to come unstuck.”
He is speaking from experience, having had a few practice matches against a few of the lower-division outfits.
“Our first game is at home against Royals, then we make the trip to Venda. Those two games are very important. What we get out of them at home and away is extremely important.
“It is about our survival. It’s a massive task. The players are staying here for another month when they should be going on a break. But I prepared them for this, so mentally they are ready.”
That mental preparedness will have to translate into winning performances against teams eager to move up into the elite league, though.