|Siyabonga Nomvethe @ Backpagepix
The last 12 months have been remarkable in the history of Moroka Swallows and the change of fortunes enjoyed in the Dube Birds.
Going into the final day’s action of the 2010/ 2011 season, the Birds were sitting on 29 points and in 15th place.
But a 2-0 win over Mpumalanga Black Aces, together with other results going their way, saw the Birds escaping the play-offs and ending in 13th spot on the Absa Premiership table.
When coach Gordon Igesund took over from Rainer Zobel, Swallows had taken just two points from nine league games.
Slowly under Igesund things began to improve, although it was only in his fifth game in charge that the team recorded their first victory of the season – the 1-0 win over Wits meaning that the Birds had taken 14 games to record their first three-pointer.
Form remained patchy around the mid-point of the campaign, but when it came to the sprint to the finish line, Swallows were up for it and recorded four wins and a draw in their final six matches, Siyabonga Nomvethe scoring three goals in that crucial period (his season return was nine goals in 24 games).
Fast forward 12 months and Nomvethe has scored a sensational 20 league goals in 29 matches to have ensured that the Birds are within striking distance of the league title on the final day of action.
His goal haul marks the first time that a player has passed the 20 goal mark since Collins Mbesuma (25 goals) did it back in 2004/ 2005. And it is the first time a South African-born marksman has passed the magical mark since both Daniel Mudau (24) and Pollen Ndlanya (21) achieved the feat back in 1998/ 1999.
Perhaps equally remarkable, and certainly crucial to the Birds’ cause, is that despite nearing his mid 30’s, and despite the incredible amount of running that he does, and taking into consideration that he is a marked man in every game, Nomvethe has managed to remain fit and healthy for the entire campaign.
Goal keeper Greg Etafia has been another ever-present, and will start his 30th league game against Maritzburg United on Saturday.
Other players that have started at least 80 percent of Absa premiership matches are Lefa Tsutsulupa (28 matches), David Mathebula (27), Luvhengo Mungomeni (27) and Giorgi Nergadze (24).
Mathebula has been right up at the forefront with Nomvethe in terms of being directly responsible for turning the club’s fortunes around – his 10 goals and numerous assists have been crucial.
Mathebula of course had struggled for game-time at previous club Kaizer Chiefs. Indeed, it has been a handful of players: Mathebula, Lerato Chabangu, Bennett Chenene, Mungomeni and Joseph Makhanya – all deemed surplus to requirements by the country’s biggest clubs, that have been vital components to the Birds revival.
But it is Igesund, and rightly so, that will be taking most of the plaudits for the Birds’ rebirth.
Managing a team is more than just about tactics. Its about instilling belief and confidence in players, in ensuring individuals are kept happy, that the team gels as a unit on the field, and as a group off the field.
Its certainly the 55-year-old who has been the catalyst, and should Pirates lose or draw to Golden Arrows on Saturday, and Swallows beat Maritzburg, he will be lifting an amazing fifth league title with a fifth club.
For the club that formed in 1947, and which has returned its Dobsonville roots this season, it would be a fairytale ending to an astonishing season.