That Roger de Sa became a goalkeeper didn't come as much of a surprise. Born in the then-Portuguese colony of Mozambique, De Sa's father spent four years playing professionally for Sporting Lisbon, representing Portugal and Mozambique, and Roger's path into football was thus pre-determined. But as Mozambique lacked proper footballing structures at the time, the youngster played only at school level and it was in 1974, when the family moved to South Africa where the ten-year-old de Sa started to blossom as a sportsman.
He eventually became a professional, playing for Moroka Swallows, Sundowns and Wits University. In 1996, when South Africa hosted and won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, de Sa was in the squad, though he did not play. Three years earlier, in 1993, he played his first game for South Africa in Zambia and also pulled off a remarkable feat. "In the same year, I played for South Africa in three sports: Basketball, indoor football and football,” he explained to FIFA.com recently. "In indoor football - I was a defender. I captained both the basketball and indoor soccer side and played for Bafana Bafana. I managed to do that in one calendar year. There are others, probably, who have played in three different sports, but I think I could be the only one who did it one year."
De Sa played basketball at the highest level in South Africa as a paid player. "But I then realised that it was too much, I could not maintain all the sports once I got to that level so I had to make a decision," de Sa admitted. Once his playing days were behind him, he decided to focus on football coaching, and he has gone from strength to strength ever since starting with Wits in 2001.
Taking command of the ship
Last year, he was offered the chance to take over glamour club Orlando Pirates and de Sa did not hesitate, leading the defending champions to third place in the league. "We never played badly, to be honest. We lost two or three crucial games, we made some mistakes and some decisions or whatever did not go our way. Even though we finished third we kept the race going until the last three games. We also got hit by injuries. I think at one stage, we had about 13 of our regular players out," said de Sa.
As South African champions the year before, Pirates also have been competing in the CAF Champions League, and the 1995 continental champions have progressed to the lucrative group stage, most impressively knocking out four-time African kings TP Mazembe along the way. "We managed to scrape through in Africa because at those particular times, in those games, we had the right combination and the right players. Also, we had an easier start against a Comoros side and then a slightly tougher one in Zambia. Against TP Mazembe we had a very good home game and then a very gutsy performance away from home."
In the group phase Pirates were drawn into Group A with the competition's two most successful sides, Zamalek and Al Ahly, as well as Congolese club AC Leopards. In their second game, Pirates secured a 3-0 victory at holders Ahly, ending a 23-game undefeated run at home in the group phase for the Red Devils.
De Sa warns though, that the job is far from over. "The Champions League will be interesting. I think it will be very, very difficult this group. Zamalek and Al Ahly will get better. I think there are two more games before you know exactly where the group stands. I think it is going to go down to the last game."
Struggles in Africa
Pirates are the only southern African club to have won the showpiece of African continental club football, which has been dominated by teams from north Africa. "I think those countries from the Arabic regions are well organised, they are tactically strong and they are very structured. They get good coaching and they have got development structures. That is where their advantage comes from. They are also very strong mentally and that is why they have done well. On the other hand, we down here are still lagging behind on the tactical awareness and in our development structures.”
De Sa also offers another viewpoint for South Africa's lack of success on the continent: "We also are a little bit spoiled back home. You know, we don't enjoy travelling into Africa, because sometimes you have to rough it up a bit and the players don't enjoy that."
At the moment though, de Sa and his players are obviously enjoying their travels through Africa and he is confident that it will not disrupt the teams' domestic league campaign. "We took precautions by signing three more players that would help us in this campaign. So now we have a little bit more cover in certain areas so we should be OK. Obviously we also have a lot of guys coming back from injury for the new season."