Pirates' dominance under threat
I never thought I would say this but I really missed the Absa Premiership action. A few days after the season closed I wondered how I was to survive without local football action. The Uefa Euro Championships kicked off but the appetite for local football was just too much.
With such a grand finish to last season, I hope you can share my excitement at the resumption of the new season. I can hardly wait for the first piece of action to begin. It is the MTN8 weekend with last season’s top eight teams battling it out for the R8 million winner’s cheque. Pirates will kick off their campaign against Bloemfontein Celtic, hoping to become the first team to win the trophy in three successive seasons.
The tone for the new campaign has been set. It would appear that Pirates’ domination did not go well with other teams. Playing second fiddle to Pirates seems to have been too painful for many teams to bear. There have been a lot of movements during the off-season that suggest many teams are ready to compete against the treble champions. Many felt they allowed Pirates to bulldoze them en route to winning six trophies in just two seasons.
So much has gone on during the off-season, with teams beefing up their squad. It has been an interesting off-season to date. It was also interesting to see players becoming ‘wiser’, putting their careers ahead of money. Some players rejected big money moves, instead settling for moves that would guarantee them playing time.
Pirates’ nearest rivals, Kaizer Chiefs, made their intentions clear before the end of last season, hiring former Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter as the man to change their fortunes. After finishing a disappointing fifth and without any silverware, Amakhosi were shocked into action. It could never be business as usual. Things had to change.
The management of the team has been accused of failing to bring real talent to the team. It was made worse when Pirates were steamrolling everyone to winning trophies.
The chairman, Kaizer Motaung, listened to the cries of his beloved supporters. He always insisted that the supporters are the backbone of this shining institution. He could not let them down any longer.
Backed by massive sponsorship renewal from Vodacom, he went out with a blank cheque to bring some of the big and talented names for the new season. He lured Bafana defender Siboniso Gaxa from Belgium. Locally they snatched Gaxa’s Bafana teammates Morgan Gould and Erick Mathoho. It looks like the glories days are back again for the Glamour Boys. There’s a renewed belief among the supporters that things will be different this time around.
Time will tell if Baxter and the new signings will bring the smile back on the Khosi supporters' faces. However, you have to commend the management, who heeded the supporters’ call to bring fresh faces to Naturena.
Mamelodi Sundowns, who inexplicably lost out in the race last season, were not to be outdone. It looks like surrendering the title to Pirates got them worried. Looking at the way they have gone about their business beefing up their squad, they too want to challenge the Buccaneers and bring some silverware to Chloorkop.
The Brazilians have however been accused of buying players they did not need. Football fans have even suggested that any player who signed for them is committing career suicide. At the last count, Sundowns had nine strikers. One can only hope that coach Johan Neeskens can keep everyone happy and find the right balance.
There seems to have been some wise buying in most teams. Bidvest Wits were among the busiest. After finishing a disappointing 12th place last season, the university outfit went all out to ensure that the team competes. In came Jose Ferreira as CEO and he brought in some much-needed vision to the team. Wits too went out to show their financial muscle by capturing Chiefs long-serving member, Tinashe Nengomasha, and his teammate and fellow countryman, Thomas Sweswe. They brought back former Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena back in the country after 18 years overseas, plying his trade in Europe. Calvin Kadi also returned from overseas to join the Milpark side.
After seeing their late charge to the title being halted by Pirates, three-time Absa Premiership champions, SuperSport United, saw it necessary to bolster their squad. Having finished the season on a high, capturing their first ever trophy under Gavin Hunt, United have gone for broke. Looking at the way Sibusio Zuma ended the season, with a few additions to the squad, Clifford Mulenga, Innocent Mdledle, things can only get better for Matsatsantsa a Pitori. SuperSport have made their intentions clear that they want to reclaim their league title from Pirates.
Bloemfontein Celtic, after securing their top eight spot, want to win some silverware. Having won a trophy some years ago, the Free State team injected some life in their squad by moving swiftly to bring in Jomo Cosmos star player of last season, Siyabonga Nontshinga, and Maritzburg United exciting midfielder and captain Kurt Lentjies to Mangaung. They also signed Dominic Isaacs from Chiefs.
Having struggled for most of last season, and fighting relegation, Platinum Stars, one of the few teams that held their own against Pirates, seem to have learned their lesson. For the sake of continuity, they held on to Calvin Johnson as coach. They bought well, adding former Bucs skipper Benson Mhlongo. They successfully signed Patrick Malokase on a permanent basis from Pirates. Malokase single-handedly rescued Dikwena’s season with his goal scoring run. Another former Buccaneer, Siphelele Mthembu has also joined.
With all the signings, one thing is for certain, teams are ready to give Pirates a tough time. It won’t be easy though, seeing that Pirates have retained most of the treble winners and judging from their display in warm-up friendlies, they are not going to surrender their titles without a fight. Even though they did not set the transfer market alive, they have added a few faces to their squad.
You can expect last season league runners-up, Moroka Swallows, AmaZulu, Golden Arrows to up the challenge and threaten the defending champions.
Whatever happens the supporters are in for a great treat. I wish the way they have welcomed the new acquisitions in their respecting teams, they will fill in the stadiums week in and week out.
Let the games begin and may the best and well prepared win.
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