May 03, 2023

Owen da Gama: The 5 best players I’ve coached

By Ryan Cooper

Owen da Gama has seen his fair share of talented players during more than three decades as a professional coach.

A top-notch striker himself for the likes of Pretoria Callies, Beerschot (Belgium) and Derry City (Northern Ireland), ‘Rubber Doll’ has forged a reputation as a coach with an eye for talent, and one who knows how to beat the odds.

He famously led unfashionable Silver Stars to a second-placed league finish in 2006/07, won the 2006 Telkom Knockout, and was named Coach of the Season in 2005/06. He also sat on the bench at the likes of Orlando Pirates, Dynamos and Highlands Park, and coached both the South African Under-23 and senior team.

So who does Da Gama rate as the best five players to come through under his watch? MTNFC got the scoop …


“I spotted him playing in Springs and for me he had the best first touch in the country. He went on to achieve wonders at Mamelodi Sundowns.”


“When I got to Highlands Park [in 2017] I think he had scored seven goals in two seasons. But we really worked hard – [fitness trainer] Simoné [Conley] worked on him physically, I worked on him from a tactical perspective – how to turn players, how to hold up the ball, how to position himself, how to delay his runs into the box. We worked a lot, but he was also very receptive … he really wanted to learn these things. He would often come to me and say ‘Coach, can we do some more?’. That also played a big role.”


“I never coached him at club level, but I coached him at the national Under-23s. Keagan was a very, very special player; I just think he went overseas a little bit too late and I got hold of him a little bit too late, but he is still a fantastic player.”


“Sailor was, for me, the best midfielder that this country has produced. He was really unbelievable. I was coaching a Vodacom team at the time and found him there, so when we merged with Silver Stars I recommended him to Eddie Lewis. Eddie didn’t want him, but when he left and I took over as head coach of Highlands Park/Silver Stars, I went and fetched Sailor. And he was the first R1-million player in South Africa – the first player to go for R1-million when we sold him to Orlando Pirates. I remember when Tottenham [Hotspur] came over and they played against Pirates, their manager Glenn Hoddle actually said this guy is making a mockery of the game when he was doing his tricks, but [the difference is] he would do those tricks going forward, to create space for his teammates. He was fantastic – he could defend well, he could play as a central defender, in the air he was strong, on the ground he knew how to defend and pass … he had it all.”


“I think he is just an exceptional player, also a late bloomer. He was the tiniest little player, but the way he mesmerised the big defenders of Senegal in Polokwane was unbelievable. He had such talent, such explosiveness that, despite his size, he could go past any player.”

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