/ 10 August 2012

Who can stop Fat Alice at Orlando Pirates?

Other teams in the PSL are going to battle to stop the Pirates players from celebrating again this year.
Other teams in the PSL are going to battle to stop the Pirates players from celebrating again this year.

A decade ago, when Kaizer Chiefs' trophy-hogging exploits were dubbed "Operation Vat Alles", an oddball sportswriter memorably referred to the campaign as "Operation Fat Alice."

The portly broad is demanding a third course and Orlando Pirates are ready to oblige.

On August 10 at Orlando Stadium, the Buccaneers would commence the defence of their Premier Soccer League title against Golden Arrows. And despite a transfer splurge by their top rivals, the

Sea Robbers looked well placed to equal SuperSport United's feat by pocketing three championships on the trot.

Six trophies in the past two campaigns have brainwashed the Sea Robbers into a healthy cult of victory – and inspired the Ghost to provide patient, unconditional support, a rare asset in a league where substitution signals are the default (and faulty) motivational technique.

Boogie wonderland
Augusto Palacios has retained the core of their squad while buying judiciously. The newbies are tough Nigerian midfielder Onyekachi Okonkwo, crafty Zimbabwean goal­scorer Takesure Chinyama and promising midfielders Manti Moholo and Mpho Makola, both captured from Free State Stars. Factor in the introduction of a fit Sifiso Myeni and the Bucs machine looks deeply mean.

The clearest threat will be Mamelodi Sundowns, who kick off tomorrow night against newly promoted Chippa United.

Coach Johan Neeskens will seek to avoid the second-half slump that undid the Brazilians' last campaign. By all accounts, a boogie wonderland of booze and birds was the secret of Downs' failure.

Yet again there will be a month's mid-season break during the Africa Cup of Nations, but this time, the Dutchman will keep his playboy mansion under tight control during the festive period. He was the first Downs coach in many years to survive a full season at Chloorkop, but he will not survive another without silverware.

Neeskens has shopped smartly, acquiring emerging striker Edward Manqele, dynamic midfielder Thamsanqa Sangweni and jet-heeled winger-fullback Teboho Langerman. All three netted on debut against Kaizer Chiefs last weekend. Dutch defender Alje Schut (31), bought from FC Utrecht, is a riskier bet. The PSL is not a retirement village for thirtysomething journeymen.

Gruelling examination
Amakhosi's slapgat MTN8 exit has put new coach Stuart Baxter in the dogbox before his league programme has even begun.

A long and gruelling examination awaits him. It is a good thing Baxter is a perceptive coach – he will need every glimmer of insight he can muster to survive this term.

Chiefs needed a trophy yesterday and the going will be tough with a new back four and a midfield short of presence and power. Their first engagement would be a hairy visit to Amazulu on August 11.

Gavin Hunt's SuperSport United will be significantly stronger than last term, fortified by a string of canny buys: George Maluleka, Bevan Fransman, Clifford Mulenga, Mark Haskins, Mor Diouf, Lucas Thwala and Innocent Mdledle.

And Hunt's knack for extracting excellence from workmanlike footballers will surely put his side in the mix when the final fortnight comes.

The joker in the PSL pack is Bidvest Wits under the newly installed Spaniard, Antonio Lopez Habas.

Immediate dividends
The Clever Boys' corporate owners have opened their money tap full blast this winter, financing delicious contracts for Aaron Mokoena, Tinashe Nengomasha, Erwin Isaacs, Calvin Kadi, Bryce Moon and Ofentse Nato.

Dramatic overhauls do not usually reap immediate dividends, but the Gauteng giants should be a bit worried about the imperialist tendencies appearing on Empire Road.

What about the darker horses? Swallows could still be in the mix under Zeca Marques, but do not bet on it. Bloemfontein Celtic have a tough but woefully tiny squad. Ajax Cape Town's boardroom war may be resolved, but the title-chasing days of the 2010-2011 summer seem a distant memory.

Dutch coach Maarten Steke-lenburg has taken a flutter on compatriot Koen van der Laak, signed from Groningen, a midfielder with loads of Eredivisie experience, and striker Bradley Grobler, who has returned home from a promising season with Turkish side Goztepe.

As for newly promoted Chippa United and AmaTuks, they may take the odd scalps, but none of the serious challengers to the Pirates regime should expect any help from the PSL's underclass.

It will take a momentous effort to put Alice on diet again.