/ 4 August 2017

Chips down as clubs sign and purge

Bright spark: Bhongolethu Jayiya
Bright spark: Bhongolethu Jayiya

Bloemfontein Celtic, Chippa United and Baroka have been engaged in a furious and frenetic scramble for players as they release unwanted deadwood and bring in additional personnel to strengthen their teams for what is expected to be the most challenging South African Premier Soccer League championship yet.

Soweto-born Bhongolethu Jayiya was a revelation at Cape Town City and his arrival at Naturena as a member of the three musketeers, with Lebo Manyama and Aubrey Ngoma, will certainly add spark to the Kaizer Chiefs wing-play where George Lebese seems to have lost direction.

There were a lot of hits and misses for a reputable giant like Chiefs over the past two seasons and, after a clear-out that has seen the likes of Edward Manqele, Siphelele Mthembu and Siyanda Xulu being sent packing, Chiefs have tried to bring in the kind of players that could add value to the brand.

Zimbabwean central defender and a player they have been tracking for a while — Teenage Hadebe — has been signed from Chicken Inn FC and will likely partner Eric Mathoho in the heart of their defence, and Philani Zulu brings that creative flair that has long been the domain of veteran Simphiwe Tshabalala.

It is, however, the arrival of Argentinian Jonathan Philippe that has raised eyebrows. The striker is said to have come highly recommended and made a huge impression on coach Steve Komphela, who has been following him from his days at Boca Juniors.

Sundowns, usually the most active team in the transfer market, have not added a single player to their roster and have parted ways with the mercurial Teko Modise. But, knowing Pitso Mosimane, do not be surprised if he brings in a big-name player before the start of the season.

Several players have been linked with the Chloorkop outfit, chief among them 20-year-old Bafana Bafana and Ajax Cape Town defender Rivaldo Coetzee and Maritzburg United’s Kenyan defender Brian Onyango.

But if there are any club officials who deserve a shot of that famous whisky, it has to be Bidvest Wits chief executive José Ferreira and coach Gavin Hunt, who have done good business during the off season by bringing in two players with massive European experience.

They do not come bigger than Steven Pienaar and Daylon Claasen and Wits have also managed to lure Montenegrin defender Slavko Damjanovic, with former Kaizer Chiefs striker Camaldine Abraw also earmarked for a possible contract with the Students.

Bloemfontein Celtic no longer want to flirt with relegation and have lured the respected former Angola and Botswana national coach, Serbia’s Veselin Jelusic, to take charge of the green and white. They then went on overdrive in recruiting players and, to their credit, they might have lost Lyle Lakay and Musa Nyatama to Cape Town City and Orlando Pirates respectively, but have brought in quality when one considers that the club managed to secure Lucky Baloyi, Ndumiso Mabena, Given Mashikinya, Ruggert Nyundu and Victor Letsoalo.

Orlando Pirates signalled their intention to regain their pride and status as the country’s top side when they captured highly rated holding midfielder Thami Sangweni from Chippa United and brought in one of the country’s top goalkeepers in Wayne Sandilands. It is no secret that, since the tragic passing of Senzo Meyiwa, Pirates’ last line of defence has been as open as a barn door — and neither Siyabonga Mpontshane nor Brighton Mhlongo seems to have the character and the commanding presence required for such a huge club.

Nigerian striker Christian Obiozor also arrived with a huge reputation from Enyimba to add bite to a strike force that had relied heavily on Thami Gabuza and Tendai Ndoro who, sadly, failed to deliver when the going got tough.

When one considers that Nedbank Cup champions SuperSport United enticed coach Eric Tinkler from scenic Cape Town, promoted exciting 19-year-old Sipho Mbule, and signed Prince Dube and Siyabonga Nhlapo, the die has certainly been cast.

The so-called minnows might have shown their intention not to saunter where angels fear to tread, but expect the next championship to be contested by Sundowns, Chiefs, SuperSport, Pirates and Wits University in what is expected to be a tighter competition than the one that has just ended.