The Jomo Sono Complex

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While rumors of the legendary Jomo Sono driving his club’s bus to a football match are untrue, it remains evident that the club owner and coach might be battling issues with delegation. Dr. Ephraim Matsilela Sono, easily the best football player South Africa has ever produced, has had a very illustrious career as a player, but not so much as a coach. Surely there are lessons that you and I can draw from this. And hopefully put them to good use in our careers and businesses.

If local football is not your cup of tea, or maybe you were just not around during the 70’s and your football history only dates back to the times of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and the likes,  you might be wondering  just who I am referring to. The Black Prince of South African Soccer, Bra J, Mjomana, these are some of the names a delighted Orlando Pirates fan with enough memory and probably nostalgia might use to give you a proper introduction of who this soccer wizard is. The start to Mjomana’s football career is rather peculiar. 

According to the Jomo Cosmos Club website, he was simply a hawker asked to stand in for an absent Orlando Pirates player, an opportunity he used to amaze many and gain a regular spot in the club’s team. Jomo had an immense influence in the accolades that Pirates would gather at the time, scoring a said total of 1080 goals in 156 matches. He is the player that left his own wedding in a rush to go help his team win a match from a goal behind. He went on to play for New York Cosmos alongside the famous Brazilian footballer Pele in the United States. His overseas career includes playing for Colorado Caribous, Atlanta Chiefs and Toronto Blizzard. His long list of achievements is listed on the club website. And this much decorated list ends with a lifetime achievement award and an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Dubai and the University of London.

At the end of his football career as a player Dr Sono decided to move up the ranks and take on a role of club owner and coach. This is where my article is centered. He approached this by purchasing Highlands Park renaming it to what is known today as Jomo Cosmos. I am not much of a soccer fan, but even I know that Jomo Cosmos so far has had what many can refer to as mediocre performance compared to what the owner has achieved in his capacity as a football player.  Jomo Cosmos is often seen being promoted into the Premier Soccer League and then later relegated to the lower league, named the Mvela League at one stage. It is such a common occurrence that there is a well-known joke about Jomo collapsing inside the Mvelaphanda  buildings and when he regains consciousness and learns that he is in “Mvela” he becomes shocked at how fast the month of May had approached. 

The month of May is usually a time when it is decided which teams are promoted and which ones are relegated. So what is wrong? How can such a talented and widely celebrated football player experience such an undistinguished career as football club owner? Is it because football players cannot run clubs? I disagree. Jomo’s very own former team mate Dr Kaizer Motaung went on to form one of the biggest football clubs in South Africa today.

So what do we attribute this apparent spell of “bad luck” to? One of the world’s richest people and practically a father of modern financial literacy, Robert Kiyosaki, has a simple answer to this; Any successful business is founded on well-oiled systems. Jomo Sono’s leaving of his wedding to go on to successfully help his team avoid a likely defeat tells you that at the time, Jomo was the system for his team. Perhaps there was no Orlando Pirates without him. His challenge now is to move from being the system to creating a system that will run even in his absence. 

In his books, Mr Kiyosaki categorizes people’s behavior and income patterns into four quadrants. Going clockwise, on the top left is E for employee, followed by B for Business owner on the right, and underneath is I for investor, and lastly S for self-employed on the bottom left. But Robert goes on to further say S also stands for Superstar. This is where we find our football icon. He has been a superstar for so long that making the switch to a business owner proves to be a considerable challenge. Perhaps Dr Sono is not too trusting with a club he owns to let someone else coach. 

Maybe he is very particular with how he wants things to be run that he would rather do it himself, resulting in many football followers suggesting that he must “fire the coach”. But one thing is for certain, if Jomo Cosmos is to reach the heights that some of its competitors have enjoyed, a better system needs to be in place. And whether this new system would mean Bra J should excuse himself from the coaching position is another debate altogether.

Jomo Sono’s situation is more common than we think. We see it a lot in the SME setup. And a lot of self-appointed CEO’s and Managing Directors will have to evaluate their business situations in light of this thinking. Every start-up owner needs to come to a point where they look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if they are not standing in the way of their company’s growth. A lot of companies are started by employees and self-employed people who have a strong flair for perfection, and a deep-seated paranoia when it comes to their “babies”. 

But if anyone wants to grow their business from micro enterprise to blue chip business, they will have to be more trusting of others. Big business is all about bringing together systems that transcend individuals. And businesses are formed to produce results; they should not merely exist to put anyone on a pedestal. In order to get those results the wise small business owner will “fire the CEO” if they must.

Raphuti Jethro Malebane is the Editor of The Emperor Magazine South Africa ( He writes in his personal capacity.