The scene has been set.
All the hard work, sweat, determination, disappointment and victory has led up to the final weekend of the DStv Premiership, where a lot remains at stake in terms of the relegation battle with just one game to go.
Barring teams like Maritzburg United, Royal AM and SuperSport United who still have to face Orlando Pirates, whose fixture list has been disrupted due to their successful run in the CAF Confederations Cup, all the teams in the league will be playing their final game of the season, all at the same time on Saturday at 3pm.
With the prestige of staying in the PSL in the balance, my interest as a coach switches to one man - Sead Ramovic and his TS Galaxy team.
Going into the last game, the German-born mentor finds himself in a precarious position in his maiden season in the South African topflight.
Ramovic's side find themselves in 14th position on the log, which if the league had to end right now, would ensure their safety. However, with all the permutations that could play out on the day, they could still in fact find themselves in the automatic relegation spot should results not go their way. The one element of security he does have though is that his fate is still theoretically in his own hands.
Galaxy take on Chippa United, the Gqeberha-based franchise who are in a safe place on the log and are clear of any relegation danger regardless of what transpires on the day.
In the case of Ramovic, he will be needing to keep a close eye on what is happening in both the Kaizer Chiefs vs Swallows and Baroka vs Maritzburg United fixtures, to understand the ramifications of their impact on his result and then adjust his tactical risk accordingly.
As it stands, even a draw for Galaxy might not be enough for them on the day to retain their PSL status because if Baroka and Swallows win their respective games, Galaxy will be automatically relegated due to their inferior goal difference. On the flip side, Galaxy could still suffer a defeat and retain their status should both Baroka and Swallows fail to win their encounters.
For Ramovic, the best-case scenario would be for his team to score first and have Swallows / Baroka go behind in their matches, allowing him to strategically manage his tactical approach throughout his game to ensure that Galaxy would live to see another day in the topflight.
For the bottom two, the task is simple. Avoid finishing last. If they want to stand any chance of securing the potential safety of the 14th position, it’s a win at all cost’ scenario.
But Baroka and Swallows will still need to track what’s happening in each other games to not overlook the lifeline of the playoff position.
There are certain factors however that are beyond the control of all the coaches involved.
For example, will Chippa United, already safe and without much to play for, honour their moral obligation to the league and field their best team on the day?
Rumour has it that their current coach Kurt Lentjies will be taking part in the match as an official send-off. With no disrespect to Kurt, who has been a terrific servant of the game and a great player in his own right – but due to his time on the sidelines and lack of match fitness, this gesture of a send-off could put an unwelcome spin on how the relegation battle plays out.
In my opinion, clubs are free to make decisions on how they operate but in the greater scheme of things, when such decisions could have a major effect on both Baroka and Swallows who are in a war fighting for their lives, more consideration may be required.
Yes, I understand the sentiment behind giving Lentjies a proper sendoff but would they have done that if they were still embroiled in the relegation fight?
Is the decision, which potentially has detrimental effects, fair to the other clubs who want to survive in the topflight?
If the shoe was on the other foot, and they were fighting for survival, would they be disappointed should another club opt to make such decisions?
I myself have been in countless situations where we have won the league with games to spare and in that instance it would have been easy to take your foot off the pedal and field fringe players with the league comfortably wrapped up. But as someone with moral fibre, I knew it was my duty to do justice to those on the other side of the table by fielding a strong team with the intention of winning in all the matches, this was illustrated by those teams going on to win the league by 8 to 10 points.
Swallows who are only off the foot of the table because of goal difference, find themselves in the reverse situation to TS Galaxy.
They arguably have the toughest fixture on the day away to Kaizer Chiefs who themselves still have all to play for as they push for that last-gasp CAF Champions league qualification spot that comes with finishing 2nd on the log.
Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard will be keen to prove their mettle and will stop at nothing to ensure they finish what has been a rollercoaster season by Chiefs standards on a high.
The 2021/22 PSL season, which has been a difficult one for fans with their inability to attend matches, has still managed to serve up another exciting climax.
The football season is a marathon because teams are given a prolonged time to prove themselves, this week however we are in a sprint finish that will have all fans glued to their seats while calculating the implications of each action.
Here is to looking forward to some great football.
Good luck to all the teams!
Before signing off this week please let me know if you’re enjoying the stories and if there any stories you would like to hear about. Also, feel free to ask questions and I will do my best to answer them in my next column. That’s it for this week. Make sure you head to www.soccer6.co.za to go play the TAB Soccer pools this week and keep the above story in mind.
Yours in football,
Coach Gordon Igesund