/ 21 April 2017

Smart money is on Clever Boys for title

Sibusiso Vilakazi
Sibusiso Vilakazi

You don’t need a degree to work out that Bidvest Wits carry their Absa Premiership title aspirations in their hands.

If the Clever Boys win their remaining eight games, they will be champions for the first time since the club was founded in 1921. But their path to glory is obstructed by three teams just as keen to lift the trophy.

After returning from Cape Town this week, Wits will host SuperSport United and Mamelodi Sundowns on either side of an away trip to Highlands Park, before finishing their season in a highly anticipated encounter against Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium on May 27.

So, what is manager Gavin Hunt doing differently to prepare his team for this all-important final act?

“Absolutely nothing. We are keeping things simple, just as we have done throughout the season,” says the experienced coach.

“Football is a simple sport. It is the media and the fans who make it complicated. If it needed rocket scientists to figure it out, I would not be here.”

Hunt may downplay his book smarts, but when it comes to having an intimate knowledge of what it takes to win a Premier Soccer League crown, he may as well possess a PhD.

Having won a hat-trick of titles with SuperSport between 2007 and 2010, Hunt knows that premature talk of success can be detrimental.

“When you start shifting your focus towards the finish line, you probably won’t get there. Instead, we are going to keep doing what we have been doing as that has got us into this fantastic position.”

There are two main variables that have brought Hunt here: goals from multiple sources and the consistent selection of a core group of players who are unquestionably his men.

All 11 players who have been on the field for more than 700 league minutes this season were drafted in by Hunt since he took over the reins of the club in 2013. And, apart from 36-year-old goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs, every player who has seen first-team football this term is one of Hunt’s recruits.

“I feel that this is my team and that when I give the players instructions, they have faith in the plan,” Hunt says, intimating that the primary reason for his team’s success is the quality of recent recruits.

“There is too much talk over coaches these days. Better players make you a better coach.”

One of those players is vice-captain Buhle Mkhwanazi, who has formed a concrete partnership with skipper Thulani Hlatshwayo at the heart of defence since both joined the club in 2014. Seven of Wits’ 10 clean sheets before the game against Cape Town City have been anchored by the pair, who have also contributed nine goals between them.

“We all do our part all over the field,” Mkhwanazi says. “Of course, the middle of defence is the most important area and we accept that we carry a lot of responsibility defensively, but we are all hungry to contribute with goals and help out if things get tight at the top of the pitch.”

It is this ethos that has seen so many goals fly in from a variety of sources.

With 13 different goal scorers this season, Hunt is blessed with contributions around the pitch and, with 10 from defence, Wits’ back four are the most prolific in the league.

When Sibusiso Vilakazi, PSL footballer of the year in Hunt’s debut season, was traded in exchange for Cuthbert Malajila and Mogakolodi Ngele, in a deal that saw him move from Bidvest Wits to Sundowns — and the other two players the other way — one wondered where the goals would come from.

Those fears were allayed when Malawi’s Gabadinho Mhango bagged nine league goals for the Students, forming a productive partnership with the seasoned Eleazar Rodgers. Both joined on free transfers before the start of the season.

Add to the mix the prodigious talent of 19-year-old Phakamani Mahlambi, who has already netted five goals in just eight league appearances, and it is easy to see why the Clever Boys are the highest goal scorers in the league and are on course for a historic triumph

“I am not confident; I am relaxed,” Hunt says with a shrug of his shoulders.

“I heard that one of our main rivals are looking at each of their remaining games as if they were Cup finals. Good. Let them worry about the title and we will worry about our next game. We’ll see who comes out on top at the end.”

Few would begrudge Wits and Hunt if they went on to win. After four years of watching bigger clubs stake a claim as the best in the country, the small university club is on the verge of something spectacular. What’s more, the team are in complete control of their destiny.