Johannesburg - With the halfway point around the corner, the 2017/18 Premier Soccer League (PSL) season is turning out to be the craziest and most lacklustre in history.
Think about this. Before eking out a 1-0 victory over Bloemfontein Celtic in an uneventful game of football, Orlando Pirates had gone six games without a win. But those three points catapulted the Buccaneers to second position on the log. And think about this. Before their 4-0 demolition of log leaders Baroka FC, Mamelodi Sundowns had been floundering near the bottom and had just begun to slowly climb the ladder. That one solid win immediately took the Brazilians to the summit of the log.
Let’s keep going. For a while, newly promoted Baroka had been sitting nicely at the top of the log, prompting comparison with English Premier League outfit Leicester’s fairytale 2015/16 season, in which they moved from escaping relegation to winning the league. But then, a few days ago, Baroka went down 4-0 to Sundowns and 3-0 to Maritzburg United, and immediately dropped to fourth position.
Few positive outcomes
Here’s some more craziness. Reigning champions Bidvest Wits, who are coached by one of the smartest coaches and boast one of the finest squads in the PSL, had been everyone’s doormat at the bottom for most of the season.
More oddity. Ahead of Saturday’s games, the top four teams were all sitting on 19 points. The next three were on 17, followed by two more on 16 points. The gap between first-placed Downs and bottom-of-the-heap Wits was just nine points. That means that, with the current scarcity of goals and the oversupply of draws, a few positive outcomes could propel Wits to the top tiers of the log. And a few losses could drive one of the leaders to the bottom half.
As things stand, Sundowns and SuperSport United are best placed to take advantage of this strange season as both are still catching up after their continental adventures. The Brazilians’ 19 points were from 10 games, as opposed to 14 already played by their closest rivals. Their neighbours are at 11th place, with 14 points from seven games. Their opportunistic goal scorers, who conjure unglamorous goals from unattractive build-ups, could easily put Matsatsantsa in the running for honours.
While some might believe the biggest question in the land is whether Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will emerge as leader of the ANC this coming weekend, the truth is that the main issue occupying the minds of South Africans is the bizarre state of affairs in soccer.
The answer primarily lies in the goal drought that was canvassed in City Press last week.
Simply put, if the teams do not deliver match-winning scores and torture the fans with 0-0 and 1-1 draws, the best they will be able to do is gain one point with each game.
What has put Sundowns in pole position is that, despite their fatigue from continental duties, they have returned 17 goals from their outings. SuperSport United had by Saturday managed 10 from eight games.
Dire state of affairs
Contrast these two Pretoria sides with Chippa United, who only got 11 goals from 13 matches, and Pirates, who scored a paltry eight in 13 games.
Long-suffering Kaizer Chiefs fans have had to contend with their players – some of whom should be on the social grants beneficiary database – scoring only 11 times in 13 games.
After bragging that his side would slurp up every trophy on offer in his first season of professional coaching, Benni McCarthy has been unable to transfer his goal-netting magic to his Cape Town City charges. They have found the net just 15 times in 13 games.
With these rather unhealthy returns on investment, it follows that the goal against and goal difference columns on the log reflect this dire state of affairs and have resulted in a season that is unpredictable for all the wrong reasons.
Lack of consistency is the other disease. This season, it has been a habit for teams to win one game and celebrate a “turnaround”, only to lose and draw the following few games.
The remark by Wits coach Gavin Hunt after winning the Telkom Knockout, that in South African football one goal wins you a trophy, was apt. For that is all it took Wits to edge Chiefs in the semifinal and Bloemfontein Celtic in the final, and thus upset the other 15 teams above them.
Lamenting his team’s wasting of chances, Hunt was quoted on another occasion as saying that, while “we’ve kept a few clean sheets now ... not scoring has affected us this whole season”.
Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic, whose side is playing entertaining and effective football, moaned recently that he had “been to 138 [countries] all over the world, I have never seen this in my life, this number of misses”.
He complained that, at Pirates, “we are having that problem after scoring one goal. We always fail to score the second goal".
The strange thing with this ho-hum season is that it has coincided with SuperSport renewing its lucrative contract to broadcast PSL matches for another five years and praising the league as “vibrant‚ competitive and hugely popular”.
If the second half of the season is to live up to this generous description, coaches and players will have to forego most of the pleasures of the festive season and apply their minds to how they can better serve the football fans.