Johannesburg - Football supporters are already divided over who should win the footballer of the season award and walk away with the R250 000 at Monday evening's Premier Soccer League (PSL) event.
This is the big one – it includes all the competitions across the PSL voted for by all 16 coaches, who have cast their expert vote.
Unlike in previous seasons, it’s a close contest between Lebogang Manyama and Thulani Hlatshwayo.
Manyama has the Telkom Knockout gold medal and also the top scorer award in the bag, while Hlatshwayo has the MTN8 title and the Absa Premiership championship.
With nothing to brag about this season, Hlompho Kekana is actually a surprise nominee and should come a distant third.
But others would argue that the best player should not be deprived of the accolades just because their club’s performance has been poor as this is not a team award, but one for outstanding individuals.
There have been surprises before, particularly with this award, where the wrong player got it, but this seems unlikely this time around.
Although there are no guarantees in life, especially in football, one thing that’s certain is that one of these three captains will win it.
The big question is – will it be the Cape Town City captain, the Bidvest Wits skipper or Mamelodi Sundowns’ leader?
Another guarantee on Monday is that Manyama already has one in the bag – the top goal scorer award, but will it be the only one or will he make a clean sweep?
The Citizens’ captain is nominated in three categories – footballer of the season, players’ player of the season and Telkom Knockout player of the tournament.
Manyama’s consistency and high-level performances up front helped City to finish third in the campaign. City’s captain has driven the Citizens forward this season. The 26-year-old striker has been critical to City’s title push, scoring 12 goals.
Second place on log
But he faces stiff competition from Hlatshwayo, who has been rock-solid at the heart of the Students’ defence. Hlatshwayo formed a formidable partnership with Buhle Mkhwanazi, and they were the main reason the Clever Boys won their maiden league title. The 26-year-old Bafana Bafana captain has been the mainstay of Wits’ title campaign and will go toe to toe with Manyama.
Although he does not have anything to show for it, Kekana led the Brazilians to second place on the log, despite much of their focus being at the CAF Champions League during the first half of the season.
Players’ player of the season:
This is all about popularity as fellow players do the voting. Most of the time, it goes to whoever is the most popular, irrespective of performance. They are best positioned to judge one another as they play against each other regularly.
The players have spoken and chosen the one they think played better than them. It will be interesting to see how they voted.
Two Cape Town City players – Manyama and Aubrey Ngoma – are competing for this award. They both played a key role for the Citizens and should be rewarded for their contribution, even though City did not win the championship. They will wrestle it out with Sundowns’ young lion Percy Tau.
Voting has been split based on what players liked in their peers. Manyama had a wonderful season for the third-placed City, while Ngoma made it happen for City. In fact, he also helped Manyama shine. Meanwhile, Tau did a destruction job for the Brazilians and has five goals to his name.
Midfielder of the season:
All three nominees – Kekana, Thabang Monare and Ngoma – have different qualities and it would be unfair to compare them pound for pound.
Kekana brings protection of the defence – a duty he performed with aplomb. He also contributed a few assists and goals.
Ngoma helps to unlock the defence with his pace. He also chipped in a few goals.
Although he was found wanting in defence, Monare has been brilliant going forward for the Students.
Tough choice for the judges!
Defender of the season:
It should go without saying that the one who helped his side clinch the championship should walk away with this one. Hlatshwayo and Sifiso Hlanti had a great season for the Students and stand a good chance because of that.
Ramahlwe Mphahlele had a brilliant start to his Kaizer Chiefs career, but he ended up on the losing side.
Goal keeper of the season:
After helping Wits to the championship, Darren Keet should win this one hands down.
Shu-Aib Walters is not far off and Denis Onyango is a distant third. Walters pushed hard, but was let down by crumbling team-mates when it mattered most. Onyango’s injuries derailed him and he will not be able to defend his crown.
Young player of the season:
Nduduzo Sibiya has been a marvel to watch for Golden Arrows and, despite not winning anything, he should still take this home.
Phakamani Mahlambi came is strongly after his lengthy layoff due to a knee injury and could go the distance.
Motjeka Madisha had a brilliant second half to the season after leading Sundowns to the MultiChoice Diski Challenge championship, but he did not play enough games to give Sibiya a run for his money.
Coach of the season:
Gavin Hunt should easily walk away with this crown to add to the four he has already won. Hunt has the championship to show, while Pitso Mosimane and Eric Tinkler came back empty handed.
The victors will be revealed at the Sandton Convention Centre on Monday. After that, it’s a fair bet you won’t be surprised at anything football throws at you.