Johannesburg — SUCH is the desperation at relegation-threatened Jomo Cosmos that frantic captain Avril Phali has turned to South African golf legend Gary Player for inspiration.
With Cosmos just three games away from sinking into the relegation quicksand, the increasingly stressed Phali said yesterday he had found himself drawing inspiration from the many motivational quotes attributed to Player during a successful golf career that yielded nine majors.
"Gary Player once said, 'The harder I work, the luckier I get'," Phali said yesterday. "I live by those words because I know that they are absolutely true. I am the captain of this ship and I have to lead by example.
"We have to keep working as if we are fighting for the league title and hopefully our luck will eventually change. Surely we will get a lucky break if we keep working hard."
Phali has been down this road before as he was part of the side when Cosmos were relegated in May 2008.
He said yesterday that he could not even contemplate life in the lower tier again after the horrors they encountered after they were relegated two years ago.
"I am not exaggerating when I say life in the first division is like living in a very dark, dark forest. That is no exaggeration on my part because it is that bad down there.
"That place is hell and we cannot go back there. We cannot go back."
Cosmos boss Jomo Sono must be a worried man as, aside from losing the R1m monthly grant that all top-flight teams receive from the Premier Soccer League, relegated sides slip into obscurity, with very little television and print coverage.
Confounding matters is the fact that sponsors are not exactly queuing up to sponsor lower-tier sides and most of the financial burden of running first division teams is usually carried by the team owners. Lack of sponsorship, poor facilities and rampant corruption make it difficult for any side to gain promotion to the top flight.
Cosmos look like a sure bet for the drop and as Phali pointed out, they will need a great deal of good fortune to avoid the relegation axe that many predicted would come when they were promoted only last year.
Cosmos must beat Ajax Cape Town at Athlone today, championship- chasing Mamelodi Sundowns at Rand Stadium on Saturday and Moroka Swallows on the final day of the season on March 6 to have a chance of escaping a direct drop into the quagmire. But, given the fact that Cosmos have won a paltry three matches all season, it is going to take some doing for Sono's charges to suddenly hit a purple patch against Ajax, Sundowns and Swallows.
Even if they are somehow able to pull off the seemingly impossible and win all three matches, they still do not have their destiny in their own hands as they will need second-from-the- bottom Black Aces to drop points in their remaining matches to earn a playoff spot.
Phali said that despite the overwhelming odds, he could not give up.
"We cannot quit now no matter how dire the situation is.
"We have to keep believing that there will eventually be light at the end of this dark tunnel. I also have to keep my colleagues motivated because we cannot afford to despair.
"If my team-mates sense for a second that I am close to giving up this battle, they will also give up. Football is very unpredictable and we have to trust that the Lord will deliver us from this challenge. Miracles happen in this sport and we have to live in hope."
But forthright Ajax spokesman Thabiso Mekuto said Phali was living in a fool's paradise as "everybody knows Cosmos are as good as gone".
"Tell them it is too late to still be fantasising about escaping relegation," Mekuto said dryly.
"They are already gone and the sooner they realise that, the better. They need to start preparing for life in the first division because they are not going to get three points from us.
"We usually do not lose to them and I would be very worried if we started now. We are not in the business of donating points and they are not going to get any sympathy from us."
Mekuto said Ajax would be without SA under-20 vice-captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, Clifford Ngobeni and Clayton Daniels, who are all suspended for this encounter.
"But whatever line-up we field on the day, we will still beat Cosmos and send them down into the hole."
In the only other match today, Bloemfontein Celtic host Golden Arrows at Seisa Ramabodu Stadium.