It is a foregone conclusion that, unless a miracle happens, Mamelodi Sundowns will be crowned the 2021/22 DStv Premiership champions for a record fifth time on the trot!
With the 14-point gap that they’ve opened at the summit, 19 games into the season, coupled with their consistent performances, the Sky is the Limit! Very little can go wrong for the Chloorkop-based outfit in the 11 league games that remain. They have really issued a “Catch us if you can” statement, as they remain the only club with just one loss so far this campaign, a loss that was recently inflicted on them by AmaZulu FC. To their advantage, this time around, the CAF interclub campaign hasn’t impacted them badly so far. If you consider how hectic Sundowns’ schedule has been over the years, you can only imagine how well they could have done in other competitions. Even their poor record in the MTN8, which they finally won this season, was certainly not for lack of trying but the crazy schedule that they had to navigate their way through. For all those seasons, Sundowns knew very little about pre-season camp because of the overlap between the domestic and continental commitments.
What you see now with coach Manqoba Mngqithi, Rhulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela’s team is the fruit of having a proper pre-season because of the changes in the CAF interclub competitions. They have now, after a long time, finally managed to get a breather, which explains why they’ve not been ‘slow starters’ this time around. With most of their focus on the domestic front, it is clear to see that Sundowns are on a roll and it will take something unthinkable for anyone to topple them. It has become easy for people to suggest that Downs’ dominance is predicated on weakening the opposition. At face value, people might think that is the case if you look back at last season when they signed George Maluleka from Kaizer Chiefs. Affectionately known as “Mido”, Maluleka was on top of his game and one of Amakhosi’s go-to guys at the time of his signing a pre-contract with Sundowns, a move that obviously didn’t sit well with the Naturena-based club. If you look at the fact that Maluleka hasn’t played much since joining Downs and how Chiefs’ decision to starve him of game-time backfired, you’ll be forgiven for giving Downs props for playing their cards very well, even though Chiefs were to blame for not fielding one of their star players at the time. It is now history that Chiefs lost the league title right at the end, with Maluleka’s absence as one of the reasons given for their loss.
Something very similar has just happened now with Surprise Ralani signing from Cape Town City, where he was undoubtedly one of the best players. The 34-year-old attacker terrorized Sundowns whenever the two teams met and was constantly a thorn in their flesh. For the past couple of seasons, the Citizens have been the closest team to beating Sundowns and matching them pound-for-pound, with Ralani among those who played a crucial role in that balance of power. Once again, it will be easy for people to think Downs acquired Ralani’s services to weaken his former club, which isn’t true. The fact that he signed an 18-month contract clearly indicates that this is a short-term project, considering his age. Unlike other teams, Sundowns are competing on both local and continental fronts as they prioritize the African dominance. When they plan, it is not just about the 30 league matches and cup competitions. It goes way beyond that because they are an ambitious side. When you are competing against top clubs like Al Ahly, who can bring Percy Tau back to the continent from England, then you need to collect all the best talent around if you are to stand any chance of succeeding. It comes as no surprise, no pun intended, that Surprise was signed by Downs and it has absolutely nothing to do with weakening the opposition. You can expect more star signings from Sundowns because they are not just about domestic football. It would also be foolhardy for anyone to think Downs have enough depth at their disposal and therefore don’t need new signings from time to time.
They are meticulous in their approach and know exactly what they are doing. There are injuries, loss of form and suspensions to consider. If you want your hand in all the pies available, you’ve got to make sure that you have enough ammunition. Only teams that prioritize staying in the DStv Premiership will be content with a squad of 30 players, for instance. So, don’t think Sundowns are out to weaken the opposition; instead, see their signing sprees as a strong message to the opposition to say they want all the best talent to themselves because they want to challenge for everything. If the opposition can’t handle that, then it can’t be made Sundowns’ problem. You also can’t use president Patrice Motsepe’s purse as an excuse or advantage because not all our teams are as financially challenged as we are made to believe. It is just a question of how they spend or choose to spend. At the end of the day, football is about winning and every player wants to have something to show for when it is all said and done. What’s the point of staying at one club when you’re not winning instead of moving to a team that will give you a better chance at winning silverware? If the opposition doesn’t wake up and smell the coffee, they will find themselves way behind Sundowns, who look set to continue to dominate this space. They either get their act together or continue to watch Sundowns ascend to the podium to collect another league trophy and gold medals!
Compliments of the New Year to all our wonderful Soccer Laduma readers. We hope you had a fantastic festive season and managed to recharge your batteries. We wish you everything of the best for the year ahead and hope you’re going to enjoy the Afcon starting this weekend, despite our Bafana Bafana not taking part in the tournament.