The playing field has been levelled - Otieno

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The veteran defender has been an integral part of the Santos team which has made a late charge for the league title.

The Peoples’ Team’s fellow league challengers currently include Supersport United, Ajax Cape Town and Golden Arrows, with Orlando Pirates the only club from the ‘big three’ (Sundowns, Chiefs and Pirates) currently occupying a top eight position.

Otieno believes an appetite for success has played its part in bridging the gap, while the financial factor has also been of vital importance.

“These days all the PSL clubs are run professionally with full-time playing staff. In the past the so-called big teams dominated because they had all the money to secure the top players.

“But lately the smaller clubs have also been pumping money into their teams and have been working extremely hard to close the gap to the point where they have now caught up and the big teams don’t know what to do. Now they are afraid to face up to teams like Santos,” he tells KickOff.

Otieno’s words are backed up by Santos’ achievements on the field – in the past two months they have beaten the Buccaneers twice and have taken a point from Sundowns in Pretoria.

Following their Nedbank Cup clash this weekend against Free State Stars, Otieno and his team-mates have the opportunity to add Kaizer Chiefs to their list of big-name scalps when they square up to the Amakhosi in Durban on April 26.

With the pressure mounting for the Cape side as they look to repeat their league title triumph of the 2001/02 season, questions will be asked of the temperament of the many young players in the team.

But Otieno believes the likes of Erwin Isaacs, Eleazar Rodgers, Romano Scott and Wayne Arendse will rise to the occasion.

“There is already a lot of pressure which we have created for ourselves by doing so well. But as the results show, the young players have been handling it well and there is no reason why they won’t continue to.

“They have got a lot of exposure through playing regularly and they are hungry to perform.”