What has become crystal clear in the past couple of weeks is that very little, if anything at all, will change in South African football in as far as Mamelodi Sundowns’ dominance over Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs is concerned.
One team, and one team only, Sundowns, has been dominating the domestic football front, winning at least one trophy every season for the past five campaigns. They have won the league title four times on the trot and, if their current form is anything to go by, they are well and truly on their fifth straight ascendence to the podium come the final whistle of the season. It has been six years since Chiefs last won silverware, while it had also been the same period since Pirates had last won a trophy when they clinched the MTN8 last season. For the two biggest teams in the country, surely it is unacceptable to go that long without anything for the millions of your supporters to smile about. Surely they deserve a lot more than being the laughing stock, being humiliated and hurt season after season. As if that wasn’t enough, Sundowns made easy work of both teams in recent weeks, further putting them in their place, so to speak!
They first eliminated Chiefs from the MTN8, before handing them a 2-0 league hiding. Thirteen days later, it was Pirates’ turn to collect their 2-0 drubbing in the league, meaning both Soweto giants have been given an equal share. Now Sundowns have made it a league hattrick against the Soweto giants, with their 3-0 win against Swallows FC effectively raiding all possible nine points from Soweto in the first round. If this is not dominance, then I don’t know what is. This speaks volumes about Sundowns’ quality and everything associated with this Chloorkop-based club. There’s a lot that both Chiefs and Pirates can learn from Sundowns, but, due to space constraints, I will highlight just two very important points. 1.Continuity and stability in the technical team. 2. Identity. When coach Pitso Mosimane left for greener pastures, Sundowns management didn’t bother looking around, they entrusted his then assistants with the job of taking over the reins. Both Manqoba Mngqithi and Rhulani Mokwena had been at Sundowns for years – in fact, they knew everything about the club, which meant there was nothing new for them to learn about the club, players, philosophy or methodology.
The current Sundowns team is not far off the team that was coached by Pitso, which goes to show that the current co-coaches were not just ball boys under “Jingles”. They bought into what Sundowns stood for, a clear system of operation, and they stuck to it. This further goes to prove that it was not just about Pitso but Sundowns, otherwise everything Pitso did would stop the moment he left if everything was about him. That also speaks to the club’s identity, which is clear even with the players. Different players give you the same output and that means Sundowns is about profiles, not individuals. What does that mean? You might be asking. It means the positions are tailor-made for the system. The players recruited should fit the system, not the other way around, so that even if the players get changed, those changes don’t affect the system. That’s identity.
Can you say the same about the two Soweto giants? Absolutely not! When the head coach leaves, the assistants are made caretaker coaches until a new mentor is secured. He brings his own identity and style of play, forcing the players to unlearn almost everything they’d learned from their previous coach because the two teams are dealing with individuals rather than profiles subsequent to their lack of identity. Then you look at the stability in the technical team. How many coaches have the Soweto giants had in the past eight seasons? Pirates had Vladimir Vermezovic, Eric Tinkler, Muhsin Ertugral, Augusto Palacios (interim), Kjell Jonevret, Milutin Sredojevic, Rhulani Mokwena (interim), Josef Zinnbauer and now Fadlu Davids and Mandla Ncikazi. Chiefs, on the other hand, have had Steve Komphela, Giovanni Solinas, Ernst Middendorp, Gavin Hunt and now Stuart Baxter. Lack of stability in the technical team can only have a negative impact in the team because now Baxter needs time to find his feet, while the players will also need time to adapt to his way of doing things and getting to know him. At Pirates, there are rumours of a new coach joining, just as the players were starting to get used to coach Davids and Ncikazi after the sudden departure of JZ. What does this do to the team’s stability? Sundowns have only changed coaches once in that same period, owing to Pitso’s departure.
When the coaching merry-go-round is the order of the day, it means the club can’t trust their coaches enough to give them complete running of the team. It takes a proven track record, delivery, trust and belief for any management to allow the coach to have complete control over the team. One can safely say Sundowns coaches have earned their right to absolute control of their team. Whether you agree with them or not, they make their own decisions and you don’t have to be at Chloorkop to know this. They have made a couple of unpopular decisions and stood firm on them, which goes to show that they have everyone’s full support regardless of what the ‘outsiders’ may think. When they continue to deliver, there’s very little space for argument against their decisions. They change their team selection whenever necessary, but the team continues to deliver the same results, playing the same style, because they have an identity. You look at the balance of their team and the way they can rotate players without affecting the momentum of the team. Can you say the same about the two Soweto giants? Certainly not! You take one key player and the whole team is not the same anymore.
Based on these two important aspects of the game, it is safe to say Sundowns will continue to dominate Pirates and Chiefs as long as the latter two don’t change their ways. You’d think their mission would be to unseat Sundowns from the throne and reclaim their positions as the two biggest and best teams in the country, but as long as they continue to disregard continuity and stability as well as their identity, they may as well forget about catching up to the record 11-time league champions in the PSL era. To think between the two teams, barring Pirates winning the MTN8 last season, it has been over 10 years since Soweto last experienced a trophy parade! Totally unacceptable! These are two teams that should be leading and dominating South African football based on their history and huge following. Teams like SuperSport United and Cape Town City are making inroads, slowly but surely eating away these two sleeping giants of South African football. Together with Sundowns, they are enjoying the support of the new generation of football lovers because they’ve seen them win trophies rather than those holding on to their rich history. If you’ve been playing for Chiefs and Pirates, other than last season’s MTN8, for the past five seasons, what do you have to show for it? As a supporter, what does that do to you?