Football in South Africa is at a standstill. Kaizer Chiefs are top of the Absa Premiership but fans now have to wait weeks to see if they hold on – we found an alternative, sort of…
The Glamour Boys are four points clear at the league summit with eight games left to play, though the suspension of football until April means that it’s going to be some time before the winner is crowned, or even until we get to see live games again.
In order to plug the hole in our lives right now, we delved into the world of arguably the most detailed football game the world has ever seen – Football Manager – to see who they thought was going to win the 2019/20 season.
Just a reiteration - THIS IS A GAME - this is not real life. We did this as an exercise to see what the most detailed football simulator in the world thought might happen.
So just to give a bit of background, Football Manager 2020 released last year and it’s an incredible database of information. What we wanted to do was play out the current campaign start to finish in order to see who came out on top in May, but there were a few things we needed to sort out before I did that.
Firstly, we needed to get the fixtures right. So after hunting the internet we finally found a guy who had scripted the season in full, starting and ending with the games as they were intended to be. We also had to turn off transfers for the first window of the season to make sure some of the big players didn’t leave and upset the apple cart.
Anyway, after we’d done that, we were ready to go.
One thing we will say is that there is a LOT of effort goes into FM, they have researchers all over the world to make sure they’re up to date with everything, but even so we were incredibly shocked when we checked into the simulated season at the halfway point and two things had happened...
Firstly, SuperSport United had won the MTN8. Not only had they won the MTN8 – like they did in real life a few months ago – but they also ended up playing Highlands Park in the final. Mad right?
Oh yeah, and Mauricio Affonso only went and scoring the winning goal too.
And if that wasn’t enough, guess who went on to win the Telkom Knockout? You guessed it, Mamelodi Sundowns. Oh yeah, and Mauricio Affonso only went and scoring the winning goal too.
So after that we were intrigued even further. They’d gotten right two of the four domestic trophies, so maybe FM could actually predict the Absa Premiership winner? And to make it better, when I check the table after 22 games Chiefs, Sundowns, SuperSport and Orlando Pirates (the current real-life top four) were all in the top five.
There were, however, some crazy moves along the way though… Quinton Fortune came into the job at Polokwane City and Benni McCarthy took over from Josef Zinnbauer at Pirates in March – the same month Ernst Middendorp left Chiefs and was surprisingly replaced by Stanley Menzo.
It was interesting season out in Thohoyandou as Mwape Musonada rekindled his form from 2018/19 to win the Golden Boot once again (he scored 11 goals), while Thuso Phala bagged 10 assists to finish at the top of those charts.
Themba Zwane was the man who impressed the most though as he finished as the highest-rated played in the league in his attempts to help the Brazilians lift another title, and in the end there were three points in it at the league summit - with Masandawana and Matsatsantsa battling it out for supremacy and the bragging rights of Tshwane…
Sundowns actually got to the CAF Champions League final – where they lost to Wydad Casablanca of all people, the old nemesis – and if it wasn’t for that then maybe their league form wouldn’t have suffered. It did though, and SuperSport clinched it with a game to spare as Kaitano Tembo led them to glory.
So it was SuperSport who completed a domestic league and cup double as Dean Furman lifted the trophy in the final year of his contract, with Thamsanqa Gabuza, Evans Rusike and Bradley Grobler getting 23 goals between them – Ronwen Williams got 11 clean sheets, and Thabo Qalinge led their creator charts with eight assists.
At the other end of the table, Baroka were unable to turnaround their fortunes, and will be replaced by Ajax Cape Town after they picked up the GladAfrica Championship title to book their place back in the big time.
After the campaign was over, Zwane went on to seal a big R16m move to Al-Sadd, Siphesihle Ndlovu went to China for R13m, and the Buccaneers paid R5.5m to bring Andile Jali back as they look to end their trophy drought in 2020/21.
So look, they might have gotten the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout winners right, but they can’t get a 100% record after Chippa United went on to clinch the Nedbank Cup – beating Sundowns narrowly in the final – and it would be very hard to see Chiefs finishing sixth now after everything that’s happened.
But, back to real life, and there’s still everything to play for in the Absa Premiership… Chiefs might have it in their own hands right now, but they can still finish as low as 10th mathematically, and SuperSport have enough to overtake them and their Pretoria rivals – now we just have to wait a few months to see what happens.
NB – Again, this is a football simulator, not real life. Also, Football Manager is currently available for free this week if you want to go and check it out!