Bafana Bafana legend and current Cape Town Spurs head coach Shaun Bartlett has always taken the road less travelled during his playing days and is continuing his unconventional thinking in his managerial career.
The 50-year-old, and second highest-scoring Bafana player behind Benni McCarthy, informed reporters during the Cape Town leg of the Nedbank Cup press conference that he has had a meeting with Stormers coach John Dobson.
And while football and rugby are two different sports codes, there is a method behind Bartlett’s madness in tapping up the current United Rugby Championship-winning coach.
“I had a meeting with John Dobson a couple of months ago, and he made a very interesting point [about Cape Town] that is why I wanted mostly players from Cape Town,” Bartlett told the media before Spurs’ match against fellow National First Division outfit Baroka FC in the Nedbank Cup Round of 32 at Athlone Stadium on Friday.
“You got to do it for the people. This club deserves to be in the top tier. No disrespect to the Ajax brand. This is a new club, a new brand.”
Spurs went through a merger in 1999, a few months after Bartlett left to join FC Zurich in 1998. The club joined forces with Dutch side Ajax Amsterdam and ultimately merged with rivals Seven Stars to create Ajax Cape Town.
It was a deal that lasted two decades before the Dutch Eredivisie parent company sold its shares in 2020, and the Spurs brand reignited its flames in the Cape.
Now Bartlett is doing all he can to see the club back in South Africa’s top flight under the Cape Town Spurs mast, even if it means taking a different route in his learning and coaching.
“Ajax Cape Town is in the past. That relationship is no longer there. We have to make sure that we get this brand as Cape Town Spurs back to the top. That is part of the reason why we want to be back in the PSL.”
“Maybe I am a different type of coach, but I enjoy taking different drills and different things from different sports, whether it be rugby, American football or basketball,” he continued.
“For instance, the last thing I took from him [Dobson] while watching a Stormers game was when you engage the player, if the two of you were coming to run at me, engage this one in order to get the ball to the other one.
“There are different things you can take from it and obviously what philosophies they have in rugby, we can start in our sports as well.”
But Bartlett did not allow his thinking and development to stop there, despite being half a century old.
He took his learning a step further and had a meeting with Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber.
“A couple of weeks ago, we had a meeting with the Springbok coaching team, with Jacques Nienaber. We are trying from every angle to make sure we get little nibbles and implement it in our sport.
“As a football fraternity, we are way behind most sports, and we’ve got to get to a level where we can also get our players to play in the national team and improve our national team, but it has to start at club level.”
Shaun Bartlett, head coach of Cape Town Spurs during the GladAfrica Championship match between Cape Town Spurs and University of Pretoria at Athlone Stadium (Gallo Images)
There are similarities, but also maturity, in the way Bartlett weaves through being a coach compared to how he tackled situations as a player.
Bartlett played an integral part in the Spurs team winning the double in 1994/95. The famous Cape side won the final season of the National Soccer League (NSL) before its merger with National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) to create what is known today as the Premier Soccer League (PSL) in 1996.
He then also helped snatch the Bob Save Super Bowl (Nedbank Cup) in the same year against Pretoria City, known now as SuperSport United, scoring in the 89th minute, bringing an end to an epic five-goal thriller with a 3-2 result.
His career then took off with an unlikely stint in the United States as they created the Major Soccer League (MSL) in the same year the PSL took flight.
Bartlett ran out in the colours of Colorado Rapids and Metro Stars before returning to South Africa. That would signal a step backwards for everyone else, but it only served as a jumpstart to what followed as he continued where he left off with Spurs, scoring goals.
Switzerland came knocking, and he represented FC Zurich, winning the Swiss Cup. Then Charlton Athletic wanted his services for a year on loan before making it permanent, as he spent the best part of his playing career with the English side.
The same initiative he had as a player, he holds close to him as a coach – go where no one else is going.
Cape Town Spurs head coach Shaun Bartlett and assistant Nasief Morris (Gallo Images)
“The transition from playing to coaching took me a bit of time. I got my coaching badges through the English FA because the local qualifications in South Africa are not recognised worldwide so I did quite a bit of travelling back and forth until I got my A Licence in 2014,” he told Sky Sports in 2020.
“My mindset is that it is all about timing. The right person, the right club, the right contact. But I have always had ambitions to come back to Europe, and that ambition is still there.”
Fast forward to 2014, he got his first gig as a head coach and, within a year, guided Golden Arrows from National First Division (Motsepe Foundation Championship) to the Absa Premiership (DStv Premiership) in 2015.
Sometimes you have to earn your stripes the hard way, even if it does not go as planned. A two-year stint with the University of Pretoria were followed by assistant coaching gigs at Kaizer Chiefs and TS Galaxy.
And now, more than 25 years later, he is back at his old stomping ground with Spurs.
But what knowledge did Bartlett impart with Nienaber as the Springboks look to defend their title at the Rugby World Cup in France later this year?
“You’ll only find out when it happens then,” he laughs before saying, “Us as coaches have to speak to other coaches from other sporting codes.
Bartlett added: “He (Nienaber) also made a very good point: he was told to unite the nation. How do you unite people? What is the main thing?
“Results, and that is what we have done this season. You can’t unite a nation if you can’t win games.”
Kick-off is at Athlone Stadium on Friday is 19:30.