After securing a third successive Absa Premiership title, will SuperSport be able to hold on to the man behind their success?
SuperSport United will conclude another successful season next weekend under Gavin Hunt. On Wednesday they equalled Mamelodi Sundowns’ three consecutive Absa Premiership titles.
Formed in 1994, just five years before their Tshwane neighbours won the league title in 1998, 1999 and 2000, this remarkable feat by Matsatsantsa (the club’s nickname) has made Hunt the most sought-after coach in the land.
It appears unlikely that the Pretoria-based outfit will be able to hold on to the architect of their three-year reign as the kings of South African football: Hunt is being touted as the next Bafana Bafana coach. However, Safa needs to move quickly to stave off the interest of big-spending Sundowns.
Football analyst Thomas ‘TK’ Kwenaite believes that SuperSport must start preparing for life after Hunt. “Safa want him and [Sundowns owner] Patrice Motsepe has also demonstrated his interest. My guess is that it will boil down to Hunt making a decision between prestige and money. Like any footballer, coaches also aspire to national team posts but we all know what Sundowns pay,” said Kwenaite.
Former Sundowns coach Henri Michel earned a staggering R700 000 a month while his successor, Hristo Stoichkov, is believed to be paid in the same region. This would be a major jump for Hunt, who presently pockets about R200 000. The former Hellenic right back could neither confirm nor deny whether he would remain at Super Stadium next season.
“It’s a discussion that I don’t wish to have right now,” said Hunt. “I am aware of the present lobbying for the Bafana Bafana post, which is rather unfortunate because I believe Safa should headhunt who they think will take the team forward and offer him the job. Not the other way round, with coaches lobbying for the post.”
Secret to success
He was, however, more comfortable talking about the secret behind SuperSport’s success over the past three years. “Buying smart, hard work at training and keeping the team organised at all times [are elements that] have served us well.”
SuperSport do not have the financial muscle of their neighbours, Mamelodi Sundowns, to compete in the transfer market. At the opening of the 2008 season alone, the Brazilians unveiled 10 new signings, including Sibusiso Zuma and Collins Mbesuma, who came in at a R200 000 salary. Both players failed to justify their pay packets and have since been discarded. Chloorkop has become the destination of choice for players close to the end of their careers, such as Brian Baloyi, Matthew Booth and Benedict Vilakazi.
In a bid to end SuperSport’s dominance Sundowns also splashed out R5-million to lure former Ajax Cape Town captain Franklin Cale ahead of Turkish outfit Sivasspor, which could offer only $400 000. Yet Matsatsantsa—who cannot rely on the massive support enjoyed by giants Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates at their matches—still marched to their third title on the trot.
It does not matter that most of their matches at Super Stadium are played in front of pitiful crowds, as they have slayed all manner of opposition.
“There is a lot of planning at SuperSport because they know their limitations and buy only what they absolutely need,” said Kwenaite.
However, their biggest asset has to be the combination of Hunt and the team-building culture at this young club. Hunt has an impressive coaching record that can be traced to his days at Black Leopards. He later joined a hopeless Moroka Swallows, guiding them to the top four before being snatched by SuperSport.
Many may argue that the hard work was done by his predecessor and Bafana Bafana’s assistant coach, Pitso Mosimane. “Pitso was great. The club were winning a few cups and finished second on the log twice, but what Hunt has done is take the team forward,” said Kwenaite.
Making his mark
“His record in South African football is good. That is why Safa are looking at him with a lot of interest and Motsepe is ready to bring out the chequebook.”
Hunt and the SuperSport back-up staff’s wisdom have been the difference between his club and the league’s big spenders and crowd pullers like Chiefs.
The Pretoria outfit are seldom in the news for the wrong reasons because the club employs financial advisers and other experts to work with players off the field. According to Kwenaite, it is rare to hear of a SuperSport player being summoned to appear before the PSL disciplinary committee for bringing the game into disrepute.
If buying smart is the secret to Hunt and SuperSport’s success, then Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns need to look at the champions and learn quickly.