/ 31 July 2014

Downs on their luck: Up the bucks!

Same again: Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane
Same again: Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane

No ball has yet been kicked in anger but the prolific spending of Mamelodi Sundowns threatens a one-sided command of the coming season and the potential for a longer period of complete dominance of the domestic game.

Quite simply, the champions are buying up so much talent that the pure power of their financial muscle suggests a scenario where they sweep all before them and turn the rest of the field into also-rans.

No coach has ever had as much carte blanche in the transfer market as Pitso Mosimane, who has always had an astute eye for a good player. He can pick and choose, like a little boy eyeing the chocolates and sweets at the supermarket checkout counter while the rest wait in the queue behind to see what he might have missed.

Building a dynasty
Mosimane’s vision of three top-class players per position has long been filled and his dilemma now is who to trim from the squad rather than who to bring in. Not that he wouldn’t mind a few more, with possible deals for the likes of Mogakolodi Ngele (Platinum Stars) and Keegan Dolly (Ajax Cape Town) still on the cards before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

Sundowns are building a dynasty that could see them become almost untouchable for years to come, particularly when their prolificacy is compared with the stilted approach to buying by both Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

Of course, Sundowns have bought with gay abandon before – and failed dismally to deliver. Indeed, it is estimated that billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe spent more than R150-million before a drought of seven years without a league title was finally ended in May.

But there is a sense their purchases are much more calculated now. In the past, Motsepe bought as much for success as he did for show, but Mosimane’s vision of what he wants is much more defined and his plans of building a super squad to conquer both at home and in African club competition in the future is now taking a defined shape.

The kind of player that Sundowns have snapped up in recent months used to be the manna from which Chiefs feed their dominance of the market.

But Chiefs can’t compete with Motsepe’s billions and seem to have adopted a head-in-the-sand approach to beefing up a squad that is looking increasingly lightweight.

Stuart Baxter has a totally different philosophy to that of Mosimane – he likes a tight and lean squad, and only signs new players who are significantly better than what he has already.

Lack of depth
But that approach possibly cost him the title last season when the paucity of talent off the Chiefs’ bench exposed a lack of depth in their squad just at the time when they needed to refresh their side. In effect, it meant they faded in the title race. As they start the new season on Sunday against Mpumalanga Black Aces in the MTN8, injuries to Bernard Parker and Siphiwe Tshabalala make them look even more threadbare.

Although Mosimane can point greedily to stunning depth in all positions, Chiefs have a distinct lack of it, a situation made more dire if they do decide to compete in the African Champions League next season.

Orlando Pirates have signed a real gem in Platinum Stars midfielder Issa Sarr but made no other improvements in other key departments – to date. Each passing season they seem to be less of a force in the marketplace.

The impact of new Pirates coach Vladimir Vermezovic will be closely watched. His at times gruff approach has ruffled feathers in the past and an unhappy player group can quickly sabotage the best will of any coach.

Chiefs and Pirates should, despite the lean pickings, still give Sundowns a run for their money but the really interesting battle is going to be between Mosimane and Gavin Hunt of Bidvest Wits, whose coaching acumen has been evidenced season after season.

Hunt has unfairly been labelled a “long ball coach” but in reality is a superb tactician who also has a good eye for a player. He is also not scared to throw youngsters into the mix.

Wits have astutely strengthened their squad in the off-season (Buhle Mkhwa­nazi of the University of Pretoria has been their best buy) and managed to hold on to captain Sibusiso Vilakazi, who was voted the best player of the last campaign and was supposedly heading to Denmark. But the long-term injury to Papy Faty is a major blow and will affect their chances.

Wits host the first official game of the new campaign on Friday against Bloemfontein Celtic in the MTN8 quarterfinals. Sundowns, Chiefs and Pirates all play this weekend too.

The league gets under way next weekend when all 16 top-flight clubs set out in search of championship honours.

New Bafana Bafana coach 'Shakes' Mashaba
New Bafana Bafana coach ‘Shakes’ Mashaba has done the job before. (Gallo)

Safa has no stomach for ‘big name’ coach

The absence of any appetite among football officials for a flamboyant foreign coach to take charge of Bafana Bafana’s immediate fortunes was likely the leading reason South Africa plumped for Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba again.

South African Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan had been keen for a high profile “name” but in the end had to go with the majority of his executive in something of an embarrassing climb-down.

It can be termed “Carlos Alberto Parreira fatigue”.

There was little conviction that a highly paid import would be able to offer much more than a local, who committee members felt would be better tuned in with the domestic players, and so Mashaba won the role on pure availability more than anything else.

Time was running out to appoint a new man, with the African Nations Cup qualifiers starting in September.

Given that his predecessor, Gordon Igesund, was already destined for the door after the African Nations 2014 calamity, the fact that Jordaan and Safa did not work harder to identify suitable candidates reflects just how poorly the sport is served by its administrators.

Safa had from February to July to canvass opinion, investigate, discuss and run a fine-tooth comb through potential candidates. This they did not do and, in the end, made a choice that most see as retrogressive.

Mashaba, it must be pointed out, has a good record at junior level, twice qualifying South Africa for world championships, and his previous tenure with Bafana produced a high winning percentage too. But he was also notoriously stubborn and set in his ways, ultimately losing his job just before the 2004 African Nations Cup finals in a clash with officials over his selections for the tournament.

With little to choose between teams these days, it is often the finer details and precise planning that make the difference.

This is where Safa and their new coach are out of step with the modern game and where they will struggle in their bid to resurrect South Africa’s footballing fortunes. – Mark Gleeson