At only 36-years of age, Rulani Mokwena has already curved his niche as one of the best coaches in the continent, and the man nicknamed ‘Pep lite’ by most in South Africa, is looking to lead Mamelodi Sundowns to the first ever African Football League (AFL) title.
Mokwena has already tasted the glory of a continental title, having been an assistant to Pitso Mosimane when the revered tactician led Masandawana to their only CAF Champions League title in 2016, but now, he wants to create history for himself.
The tactician has been nicknamed ‘Pep Lite’ due to his playing philosophy, as well as his liking of the Manchester City coach, whom he borrows a lot, from with the way he sets up his teams. He has also said in previous interviews that he follows closely the works of Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp.
Mokwena comes from a footballing family. His father, Julius Sono, is a former Orlando Pirates player while his uncle, Jomo Sono, is a former Souuth African international and head coach, and is also the founder of Jomo Cosmos.
For him, hence, football was always second nature. He didn’t have much success as a player himself, but for all he missed actively kicking the ball around, he is making it tick as a tactician.
The coach is in his second full season in charge at Sundowns, having had his first spell last season and led the team to the league title, winning it with seven matches to go. He had initially joined Sundowns as a co-coach alongside Manqoba Mngqithi.
Mokwena worked under Mosimane between 2014 and 2017 before following in the footsteps of his family members and heading to Pirates for a role as assistant manager to Milutin Sredojevic. He took iver on the interim after the resignation of the Serb in August 2019, a position he held briefly.
He then left to join Chippa United, but his tenure there wasn’t as smooth as he would have wished, as the league was heavily disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just after the resumption of the league, he joined Sundowns as head coach with Mngqithi, but after the club’s results started dwindling, the management decided to settle on one of them to lead the ship, and they handpicked Mokwena.
The tactician is slowly showing that the bosses in Pretoria didn’t make a wrong decision in handing the trust to him, as he has not only made Sundowns a force in the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL), but continentally as well.
He led the side to a semi-final place in last season’s Champions League, where they were stack favourites and this season, they have also seamlessly glided into the group phase once again.
With the African Football League, Mokwena has an opportunity to raise his profile, with the final showdown set for their Pretoria homeground on Sunday, where they trail Morocco’s Wydad Athletic Club 2-1.