OBITUARY: Styles Phumo: football's supreme gentleman
APRIL "Styles" Phumo, who has died at the age of 74, was the head coach of Bafana Bafana when they were knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Tunisia in 2004.
It was an abysmal performance that marked a new low for the team, which were thumped by minnows Mauritius along the way.
Even though he presided over their first-round exit from a competition Bafana had won eight years before, Phumo, in time-honoured fashion, refused to accept blame and insisted things were better than they seemed: "I am proud of my achievements."
Apologists said Phumo was only appointed the day before the team left for Tunisia, after the SA Football Association fired head coach Shakes Mashaba. But Phumo was certainly no newcomer.
He had been Mashaba's assistant and before that worked closely with previous head coach Trott Moloto, and therefore had been connected with the team for a while.
They said he was not allowed to choose his own team, but Phumo had in fact announced that he was "very happy" with the squad. Despite all indications to the contrary, he believed Bafana would "go all the way".
It is true that Phumo had to deal with an incipient player revolt when the country's finest, showing more prescience than their coach, insisted that they would take to the field only if their payment was not linked to their performance. It is true that because of this the mood in the camp was one of demoralisation from the start. But some say the real reason the team bombed out was that the coaches, led by Phumo, were not up to their task.
Phumo was one of the supreme gentlemen of the local game. He was shy, unassuming, likeable and quietly helpful and supportive of younger players he thought had potential. He was technically proficient and achieved some success as a club coach with Bloemfontein Celtic.
But as head coach on the national stage he was out of his depth. His coaching was unimaginative, inflexible and behind the times. A seasoned football writer referred contemptuously to "the old man's rats-and-rabbits training regime". He was incapable, certainly during the Africa Cup of Nations, of adapting his tactics to suit different opponents and changing situations.
He was fired immediately after the tournament and replaced by Englishman Stuart Baxter.
Phumo was born in Denver, Johannesburg, on April 1 1937 and grew up in Alexandra. During his playing days at a vocational training school in Soweto, where he learned to be a carpenter, his prowess on the field led to him being nicknamed "the black Napoleon". Fans, bedazzled by his on-the-ball tricks, would later call him "Styles".
He was drafted into the South African squad to play in the 1964 World Cup qualifier, but soon afterwards the country was banned from participating in international sport because of apartheid.
In 1967 he went to Maseru, Lesotho, as a player-coach and stayed for almost 30 years.
When he returned to South Africa he was appointed coach of Bloemfontein Celtic. Although he coached other club sides too, this was the one closest to his heart and he and Celtic formed a lifelong relationship.
Phumo, a non-smoker, died of lung cancer. He is survived by three daughters. His wife, Julia, who he married in 1962, died in 2009.