CHILLIN’ WITH SAZI
The PSL urgently needs competition, not another procession by Downs
After winning the league by 16 points, Sundowns need to be put under more pressure by Chiefs and Pirates
So, another Premier Soccer League (PSL) is done and dusted. Well not quite if you’re Swallows FC, University of Pretoria (Tuks) and Cape Town All Stars who will officially finish their campaign after the completion of the PSL’s ridiculous promotion/relegation playoffs next week.
It was a season to savour for Mamelodi Sundowns’ fans, as the Brazilians won a rare domestic treble which came with a whooping R30m-worth of prize money. If you add the R10m Sundowns won for reaching the quarterfinals of the Caf Champions League, you realise how big pockets, which were already not short of cash, were inflated.
Obviously we can’t say the same about Sundowns’ opponents, who gave up in the title chase with four matches remaining. A 16-point gap separates Sundowns with Cape Town City, who took second spot and will partner the Brazilians as SA’s representatives in the Champions League next season.
That gap tells the story of how far behind other teams are from Sundowns, who are now plotting for the 2022-2023 season with some new big name players bandied about to add to their squad. That’s how Sundowns, the winners of SA’s football league in the last five seasons, have separated themselves from the rest of the clubs in the PSL.
While winning everything all the time is good for Sundowns, it is certainly not for the neutrals who would prefer a neck-and-neck race every season.
That Sundowns won a treble shouldn’t make us forget that we’ve just finished a season in which there was little, if anything, to enthuse about. The lack of competition for Sundowns was a big factor in making the 2021-222 campaign a forgettable one.
With a good preseason, wise buying and releasing of those deemed surplus to requirements, Chiefs and Pirates may have a good opportunity to challenge Sundowns while rebuilding their teams next season.
Yes, players like Peter Shalulile and Andile Jali won big gongs and money for their efforts in the PSL Awards, but when you sit down and try to remember what really happened, you struggle to find many outstanding and memorable performances.
It’s very good for Shalulile to win back-to-back PSL’s Footballer of the Season and Player’s Player of the Season awards. The Namibian goal poacher deserves all his accolades, but you’ve got to ask whether the striker did anything extraordinary in firing 23 league goals — which is his job anyway.
At 32, Jali did well to win the PSL’s Midfielder of the Season and Player of the Tournament in the two SA cup competitions. Is it not a little embarrassing for our football that a combative midfielder, deemed not fit to wear the Bafana Bafana jersey by coach Hugo Broos because of his age, has no challenger in the league?
It’s very good for Jali but maybe not so much for a country like ours which should be producing many young and top-class midfielders every season.
What really made Sundowns’ crowning so easy was that the two top clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, who are expected to challenge them had disastrous campaigns. More disappointing was Pirates’ spectacular failure to at least grab the second position, even when the league appeared to have handed it to them on a silver platter.
The PSL was left wanting in making sure that they fitted Pirates’ Caf Confederation Cup schedule within the league fixtures. This left Bucs with an unprecedented opportunity to play their last three league matches when some of their rivals for second spot had already finished.
That Pirates didn’t grab the chance is further indication of how terrible their domestic season was. Had Bucs managed to win all their three matches, the PSL would have been in the firing line, with protests from those who were not given an equal opportunity to compete for second spot.
In the end the PSL executives avoided egg on their faces as justice was delivered on the field of play — courtesy of Bucs’ failure to seize their chance after winning, drawing and losing their last three matches.
With a good preseason, wise buying and releasing of those deemed surplus to requirements, Chiefs and Pirates may have a good opportunity to challenge Sundowns while rebuilding their teams next season. The Soweto giants will have a nice breather, with no Caf competition commitments on their schedule.
Pirates’ coaches have often complained of fatigue catching up with their limited squad when they also have to play in Caf competitions. But for the first time in four years, whoever will be Pirates coach next season will not be able use that as an excuse.
While there have been some signs of Chiefs wanting to do things right with the appointment of Arthur Zwane as their coach for the next three years and the signing of two promising players in Ashley du Preez and Zitha Kwinika from Stellenbosch FC, the same cannot be said of Pirates who have not shown any signs of acting like club in serious need of reconstruction.
It will be what these two clubs do, mainly in the off season, which will indicate whether they’re serious about changing the status quo in SA football.
Chiefs’ and Pirates’ failure to chase Sundowns means Royal AM, who finished third in the DStv Premiership, and Marumo Gallants, the runners up in the Nedbank Cup, will represent SA in the Caf Confederation Cup next season.
With no more than four seasons’ combined experience in SA’s top flight, Royals’ and Marumos’ participation in this competition can’t be expected to stretch beyond the first two play-off rounds. City too, making their first appearance in the Champions League, will be on a learning curve in next year’s competition.
That leaves Sundowns as our main flag bearers again on the continent. But it need not have been so if Chiefs and Pirates were doing what we expected of them.
That Gallants and Royal, whose elevation to the top flight was bought through their owners’ purchase of Bidvest Wits and Bloemfontein Celtic statuses, have gone on to finish ahead of Chiefs and Pirates in the league further shows how far these Soweto giants have fallen.
The 2022-2023 season may perhaps offer us a better season in terms of the big guns challenging each other. But that can only happen if Chiefs and Pirates reshape their squads and technical teams.
It will instil some confidence in those following Chiefs and Pirates if their coaches stop feeling inferior to Sundowns.
Zwane looks like a man ready to end Chiefs’ trophy drought, which has stretched to an unprecedented seven years. But Pirates have a lot to do in the off season to show they have the appetite to challenge Sundowns.
More haphazard planning from Pirates and Chiefs will leave us with nothing but Sundowns cruising to a record-extending sixth successive Premiership title next season. SA football surely deserves a better competition than that.