Mamelodi Sundowns substitute Phakamani Mahlambi made an immediate impact by scoring the goal that sealed the South African Premiership title in a 1-0 win at Free State Stars on Saturday.
The tall striker had been on the field in central town Bethlehem for only five minutes in place of injured Uruguayan Gaston Sirino when he netted the winning goal late in the first half.
Mahlambi returned to South Africa last year after failing to make the grade with record eight-time African champions Al Ahly of Egypt.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane said at the time of the signing that Mahlambi had “a lot to learn”, but his clinical finish against Free State showed he has improved considerably.
The goal not only earned Sundowns a record-extending ninth Premiership title, it also condemned Stars to relegation and financial trouble.
While Sundowns pocketed a 10 million rand prize, Stars contemplated life with a 300,000 rand monthly grant, a fifth of what Premiership clubs receive.
Success for Sundowns was perfectly timed as it eased the pain of being eliminated by Moroccan outfit Wydad Casablanca from the CAF Champions League semi-finals last weekend.
Mosimane became the first coach to win the Premiership four times with the same club, overtaking Gavin Hunt, who led SuperSport United to three league titles.
“This is the greatest of my Premiership titles,” said the 54-year-old former national team striker, who oftens rises at four o’clock in the morning to analyse videos of opponents.
“It is also the most emotional. I wish to thank all those who helped me succeed as no man is an island.
“Coming to Bethlehem and facing a team fighting for top-flight survival meant it was a tough match, but we managed it well with the experience gained from playing in Africa helping.
“Some South Africans believe coaching Sundowns is easy because we have a generous owner, a professional set-up, great support staff and some of the best footballers in the country.
“What they forget is that I and my staff have had to constantly rebuild the team when our stars moved abroad. We have to reinvent ourselves regularly.”
Apart from his Premiership titles, Mosimane became the first South African to coach a CAF Champions League-winning team when Sundowns beat Zamalek of Egypt in the 2016 final.
They reached the quarter-finals of the elite African club competition the following year and the semi-finals this season.
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