With the Absa Premiership returning next month, the question on many fans’ lips is undoubtedly “who will win it this time around?”
It’s not very hard to pick a winner. Since the league was first created back in 1996, only twice have teams from outside of Gauteng managed to walk away with the honours, and this time around, one need not look further than Mamelodi Sundowns, Bidvest Wits, and Kaizer Chiefs.
While Wits had an amazing campaign last season, it was Sundowns who lost the title, and they can blame their congested fixture list for that.
Pitso Mosimane’s boys didn’t get a break at the end of the 2015/16 season as they were also involved in the CAF Champions League, and while the rest of the league get the month of December off, Sundowns were in Japan playing in the Club World Cup.
And, when the players were running low on energy towards the end of the campaign, the games started to pile up, and you found that they struggled – or were beaten – in games they should have won.
Mosimane and the hierarchy at Chloorkop would have learnt a few lessons out of last season, and they will no doubt do enough preparation this time around as they look to remain at the top of the South African football ladder.
For the likes of Khama Billiat, Hlompo Kekana and Leonardo Castro, they will be hoping to forget all about finishing as the bridesmaids as Wits took the honours, and show that they are the best team in the continent and the country.
But, they will be mindful as to not underestimate the Clever Boys. Wits didn’t do that much better during 2016/17 than they did in 2015/16. The difference was a mere three points, as they picked up just one more win. Looking at the numbers, their last two campaigns were near identical. The only difference that allowed them to walk away with the trophy were the 14 points dropped by Sundowns. Gavin Hunt will know this.
Wits, however, have made their intent known by how they have gone about their business in the transfer window, by signing two former Ajax Amsterdam players in Steven Pienaar and Daylon Claasen. They’ve also kept a large part of their title winning squad, and Thulani Hlatshwayo will be buoyed by being named the new permanent national team captain.
And with a lot being said about Phakamani Mahlambi, the 19-year-old will be out to show just why the country is so excited about his prospect as a footballer.
Amakhosi will also definitely throw their hat into the mix as they once again look to #reclaimtheglory. The Phefeni Glamour Boys have been severely unlucky over the last two seasons, and there will be pressure on Steve Komphela to finally deliver the crown they last won in style in 2014/15.
“We are sorry we let you down, we won’t do it again,” was the message that was sent out by Chiefs players to their fans following a poor season, which saw them fail to pick up any silverware for a second consecutive campaign.
They haven’t gone big in the transfer market as yet, and they’ve announced a few players who will add quality, no doubt. But they will need to work on finding the back on a more regular basis, and keeping goals out at the other end.
The coach will have to make the decision of whether to carry on up front with the 31-year-old Bernard Parker, who scored just five goals last season, or look to Venezuelan front man Gustavo Paez, who scored the same amount, while playing fewer games, and coming off the bench for most of the campaign.
Fortunately for Chiefs, they also have on their books one of the best – and underrated – young strikers in the league in 20-year-old Ryan Moon, who recently received his first Bafana call-up earlier this week.
Fans should be excited about this kid, especially after his first goal for the club in a 1-1 draw against Golden Arrows. The way he plucked the ball out of the air and brought it to control with his foot, while under pressure, was impressive. His turn, losing his marker was brilliant, and the finish, to beat Nkosingiphile Gumede in the Arrows goal, was simply sublime.
If Chiefs can find a striker to score more than 12 goals a season, they will definitely find themselves doing better this coming campaign. If Moon plays regularly, in his preferred position up front, he could be the man to turn them around.
Of course, there are other teams besides Sundowns, Wits, and Chiefs who could challenge for the title such as SuperSport United and Cape Town City. But, it’s still soon to tell what impact their coaches Eric Tinkler and Benni McCarthy will have.
Now, how sad is it that the name of the country’s most historic club – Orlando Pirates – does not feature in any conversations about potential league winners?
By Lunga Biyela