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Soweto giants they may be, but they’re minnows in the money ...



Soweto giants they may be, but they’re minnows in the money department

Sundowns’ finances have made the PSL a one-horse race. If Chiefs and Pirates want to compete, they need more money

Sports reporter
The transfer of Bafana midfielder Teboho Mokoena from SuperSport United to Mamelodi Sundowns is another example of the Brazilians wielding their financial muscle.
MIDFIELD DYNAMO The transfer of Bafana midfielder Teboho Mokoena from SuperSport United to Mamelodi Sundowns is another example of the Brazilians wielding their financial muscle.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

Another transfer window has come and gone in SA football and not much has changed as one dominant club remain at the top of their game.

I’m referring to Mamelodi Sundowns who are well on course to win an unprecedented fifth league title in a row and 12th in the Premier Soccer League era.

This was not the situation before mining magnate Patrice Motsepe entered the fray and took charge of Sundowns almost two decades ago.

Before Motsepe’s arrival the best South African players dreamt of playing for one of the two Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates or Kaizer Chiefs.

The intriguing part is that most players were not driven by the money likely to be offered. The prestige, privilege and fame that came with playing for these clubs were the most attractive elements.

A select few, including Pollen Ndlanya, Jabu Mahlangu, Marks Maponyane, Ace Khuse, Siyabonga Nomvete and the late Thabang Lebese, had the privilege of donning both rivals’ jerseys, some even managing to score for both teams in the famous Soweto derby.

Affordability is not an issue and, with no real rival matching what Sundowns can offer, they also get whoever they want.

But things have changed, with Sundowns dominating the number of trophies won and the sort of money they offer to their players.

If a player hasn’t played for Sundowns these days it seems they haven’t reached their pinnacle, considering Motsepe with his billions buys the best players available in SA and beyond.

Affordability is not an issue and, with no real rival matching what Sundowns can offer, they get whoever they want. Hence the arrival of Teboho Mokoena from SuperSport United during the January transfer window.

There was, however, a time before Pitso Mosimane joined Sundowns as head coach in December 2012, when the money they used to buy high-priced players didn’t match what they were delivering on the field.

Mosimane rescued Sundowns and Motsepe’s millions and ensured the team got the best performance for what they were paying, culminating in the Brazilians winning the Caf Champions League in 2016.

Pirates and Chiefs were the teams who were expected to match Sundowns pound for pound, not just in the transfer market but on the field. Since that hasn’t happened for a least 10 years, it means the two Soweto giants owners must change their strategy.

You just have to look at what happened in the recent January transfer window when Pirates and Chiefs didn’t add a single player to their current squads, despite struggling to stay in the title race with Sundowns.

This is typical of what has happened over the past 10 years or more, when Sundowns have had the financial muscle to add the best to the quality they already have, while their rivals have no such luxury.

This situation can’t continue, not if we want to see some improvement in our football. At some point Chiefs and Pirates will have to seek financial help elsewhere if they want to challenge Sundowns on the field and in the transfer market.

Sundowns’ dominance may be good for the Brazilians and their supporters but it’s certainly not good for SA football, especially with the two biggest teams in the country failing to catch up.

One of the biggest problems with Sundowns buying all the best players available is that they can’t guarantee playing time for all of them. Even Mokoena, who played every match at SuperSport, where he was possibly the first player on Kaitano Tembo’s team sheet, may not play as many games at Sundowns.

And when that happens, who suffers? The player and of course Bafana Bafana. Mokoena was one of the national team’s brightest hopes in 2021.

At Sundowns, Mokoena may join players such as Ricardo Goss, Reyaad Pieterse, Mothobi Mvala, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Haashim Domingo, Thabiso Kutumela and Lesedi Kapinga who, despite their immense talent, are hardly sure of a starting berth in the star-studded team.

If Pirates and Chiefs could compete with Sundowns in terms of buying power there’s no doubt that some of the players I’ve mentioned would have joined them and possibly had better chances of starting matches.

The situation may force Chiefs boss Kaizer Motaung and Pirates supremo Irvin Khoza to consider selling part of their club shares to people who can help them compete with Sundowns.

At the moment the PSL frowns upon allowing foreign investors to be majority shareholders in the local teams but, given the financial strength of Sundowns, it may be time to change tack and open the floodgates to foreign investors.

What also makes Sundowns a better team is that they can afford to buy not only local talent, but for years they’ve brought in scores of foreign players, not only the best from the continent but from South America and elsewhere.

Pirates and Chiefs, as shown by Amakhosi’s gallant attempt to win the Champions League last season, cannot be expected to win major trophies on the continent if they can’t challenge Sundowns on the domestic front.

That both these clubs did not add a single top player in the January transfer window doesn’t necessarily mean they’re happy with their current squads. This, rather, tells a story of their financial strain, which may have been worsened by the outbreak of Covid-19.

Chiefs last won the league title in 2015 and seven years down the line they hardly look like a team who can stop Sundowns this season.

The situation is far worse at Pirates who will complete a decade without a league crown this season. 

In top leagues in the world where big clubs remain big, you hardly hear of an anomaly such as ours.

If only for Bafana’s sake, we’re in desperate need of a strong Chiefs and Pirates in SA football.


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