PSL minnows to the fore
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Three unfancied front-runners have emerged in the early stages of the new Premier Soccer League season, again offering evidence of the competitive nature of the league.
After four matches we see Free State Stars, Maritzburg United and Pretoria University leading the standings, albeit Kaizer Chiefs would likely have been top had their game against Black Leopards not been called off because of the most extraordinary weather conditions.
It is increasingly so that the league in South Africa is less predictable; less dominated by the popular clubs and near impossible to ‘buy’ as Patrice Motsepe has learned to the detriment of his pocket over the years.
Roman Abramovich might have bought success with Chelsea and the Arab sheikhs at Manchester City, but Motsepe’s purchasing power is not producing any returns.
His Mamelodi Sundowns club are in the throes of their latest crisis after four successive defeats.
Johan Neeskens, who looks gaunt and yellow at the best of times, has an even more haunted gaze as he tries to pretend nothing is wrong.
After Saturday’s loss at Lamontville Golden Arrows - admittedly an unlucky setback - he suggested his players had looked better than he had seen them play in a while and that he was pleased with the improvements on display. I’m not sure he is trying to convince himself more than the rest of us but there is just no dynamism, team spirit nor mental strength at the club.
Sundowns had nine players out through injury for the weekend trip to Durban. According to club officials, many of them were little knocks in training from players who shied out of tackles and rushed to the medical tent at the slightest hint of a twinge or pain.
At Sundowns it seems, many are happy to collect lucrative wages, even as their playing reputations take a knock.
Sundowns had a great team spirit in the days when Screamer Tshabalala was coach but there has always been something artificial about the edifice they have built.
Originally it was club based in Pretoria’s coloured community. They were re-born in Mamelodi under the patronage of two local doctors and made it up the NPSL in the early 80s.
But in 1985 the club was take over by Zola Mahobe, who used his fortune to buy top players - Ernest Chirwali, Mike Mangena, Harris Chueu, Donald Khuse, to name a few.
Mahobe, it later turned out, had been robbing the bank to pay for his hobby but by then the millionaire image and attitude of Sundowns had already been born, aiming to wear the same kit as world champions Brazil and even call themselves ‘Brazilians’.
It was a cocky arrogance that had an appeal and Sundowns provided a welcome respite from the duopoly of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
For almost three decades now they have been a perennial contender and a club worth following.
When Motsepe, the country’s richest man, took over, it was even more exciting. He slapped cash around, buying the best players, almost at will.
But it so doing, it seems to have killed off any hunger or desire. Now Sundowns prance around pretending to play while the real fighters are the likes of AmaTuks, Maritzburg and Free State Stars.
If they are to engineer some success soon, Sundowns need to go the core of their attitude and philosophy and rid themselves of a culture of entitlement.Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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