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Maduka Reveals Secret Behind Royal AM Revival

This feature is brought to you by DStv and first appeared in Edition 94 of iDiski Times.

Coach John Maduka broke out a big smile when it was suggested that Royal AM is the club that is meant for him.

Maduka is back at Royal AM, who huffed and puffed this season after he left them at the end of last term to join Maritzburg United. This after he led Royal AM to third place last season, to qualify for the CAF Confederation Cup, only to join Maritzburg that was almost involved in the relegation dogfight.

Shauwn Mkhize, the club boss, was left stunned by Maduka’s decision to leave while she was away on an overseas holiday, out of the country when she heard the news, leading her to cut her trip abroad short to find out why.

She then appointed Dan Malesela, Khabo Zondo and Abram Nteo, who was Maduka’s assistant in the historic campaign last term, as co-coaches at the beginning of the season, but Malesela left in September, saying the co-coaching system didn’t work for him.

Clearly, his boots were big to fill, looking at what Maduka was able to negotiate when the club was formed after just four days last season when Mkhize had purchased the premier division status of Bloemfontein Celtic.

However, leaving that foundation and joining Maritzburg, who year in and year out are building the squad, was a risky job to take. Perhaps Maduka wanted to prove to everybody that he can flourish in a tough and demanding environment.

Although Maritzburg chairman Farook Kadodia said when he appointed him he developed the love of Maduka from afar when he was in charge of Bloemfontein Celtic before, he clearly gave him sufficient time to topple the storm. But the storm overwhelmed him and he was sacked in November and replaced by Fadlu Davids.

As he’s now back at Royal AM, whose identity was lost when Nteo was left as the sole head coach after Malesela left and Zondo was demoted, but signs of toughness are showing from last season.

As much as the club was put together hastily before the first game last season, they only lost three matches under Maduka in all competitions at home – Cape Town City in the second league game of the season, Mamelodi Sundowns in the last game of 2021/22 and also to Sundowns in the Nedbank Cup semi-final.

As he was reappointed a few weeks ago, Royal AM’s confidence that appeared lost is now restored. Unheard or unseen of this season, although not pretty on the eye, Royal AM overcame Sekhukhune United 2-0 in the DStv Premiership at Chatsworth Stadium last Saturday to move to seventh with 29 points after 22 matches.

Maduka was reunited with the player who was key to his success – Victor Letsoalo, who left for Babina Noko at the end of 2021/22, but their defensive line was solid as Samuel Manganyi and Thato Lingwati led it superbly.  

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“So far so good,” was the initial response by Maduka when it was put to him by iDiski Times that this club was meant for him, having known most of the players.

“We are still not where we want to be. We do make some mistakes that we can easily get punished for. But it’s work in progress, we are getting there.

“The more we win games, the more the team becomes so confident that [we say], ‘you know what, we can be able to win games and achieve what we want to achieve at the end of the season’.”

Since Maduka arrived back at the club, he has been in charge of four matches – winning two and drawing the others. As he has said that Royal AM are still a “work in progress”, he felt Sekhukhune should have been overwhelmed by his team.

“If we were sharp enough, we could have been talking about 4-0 and we would have needed those goals,” said Maduka, who is not far off to call upon the experience of Happy Jele but can’t due to match fitness.

“When we have those chances, we must score the goals. But I’m happy that we kept the clean sheet and we managed to score two goals. But [I’m] so proud of the boys, they are working very hard because it was a difficult game, but the boys did their best.”

As Royal AM were blowing hot and cold and now looking to have their football aura restored and the happy times back at the club, Maduka said some panel beating was needed to set them back on track.

“The consistency of the team that plays, we don’t normally change the team much because we must have a team that is playing consistently week in, week out. If there has to be a change, there must be a change, maybe in the loss of form of the player, individually or maybe there are injuries like we have,” he added.

“I also thought it was important to have a team that is fit because I remember when I watched them (afar) that they could play 60 minutes after that you could see us dropping the tempo.

“But if you look at the game, after 60 minutes, it is when we must raise up the bar, we take the game to the opponents.”

Royal AM’s confidence that has kind of been restored will be tested to the extreme level when they visit Sundowns at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on 14 March.  

Before that, they will face Golden Arrows in the Ke Yona Cup round of 16 at Princess Magogo Stadium today (Saturday). The 2-1 win over them that came last month will cut sharp to Arrows and vividly to Royal AM – the game Maduka did not sit on the bench even though he was appointed a few days before the match.            

Robin-Duke Madlala
Robin-Duke Madlala
Robin-Duke Madlala is iDiski Times' KwaZulu-Natal-based web journalist. Boasting extensive experience in the South African football landscape, Robin-Duke has previously worked for Kick-Off Magazine, Soccer Laduma, and Daily Sun and Sunday Sun. He specialises in breaking news and transfers around South Africa’s big clubs in KZN.