What has been the Brazilians’ meat (winning silverware) has turned out to be the Buccaneers and Amakhosi’s poison (trophy drought) in the past five seasons when it comes to lifting the league title. All the while, the South African football fraternity has been pinning their hopes on these two giants of the local game to dethrone the Chloorkop-based outfit, so that there’s some parity and competition in what has become a one-horse race for the league honours. Interestingly, the two Soweto giants flattered to deceive as strong challengers to the throne over the years but never really lived up to expectations. If anything, it was the so-called smaller teams that looked more convincing and pushed Sundowns, at times. But that wasn’t enough to stop the Chloorkop-based side’s dominance.
With the new season only two rounds of fixtures old, questions are being asked about whether this is the campaign that will see an end to the prolonged trophy drought for those who hail from Soweto. Will Soweto finally have something to celebrate and stop Tshwane from popping the champagne? Can Bucs and Chiefs oust Downs? Only time will tell! Let’s look at what will be the Achilles tendon for the two great teams as they go toe-to-toe with the Brazilians. Number one, the two teams have new coaches who are still finding their feet in their respective new roles, although one is more settled than the other. Coach Jose Riveiro isn’t only new to Orlando Pirates but South African football as well, while coach Arthur Zwane has been at Kaizer Chiefs for years but new in the head coaching role. To add to that, both coaches have new signings that they still need to get used to before they can safely say they’re on the same page with their players. Neither one can safely say they’ve got the right combinations already, as they are surely still working on a few things in order to get their respective teams strong enough to compete. That means both Bucs and Chiefs go into the season on a back foot.
You might think coach Zwane is in a better position by virtue of being there even last season. However, there are a number of key players that have since left the club and he’s now working with a fairly new group of players. You’ll also remember that he was ‘signed’ at almost the same time as most of the new signings that were made by the club. He was announced as a new coach with some players having already signed, while others were signed a few days later. What does that mean? Simply put, coach Zwane had little to no say in the acquisition of those players and even those who were let go. There are a lot of negotiations involved in making these kinds of deals and they therefore take time. Looking at the timeframe, it would be foolish to assume that all the Chiefs new signings were made by coach Zwane. Just like his Pirates counterpart, coach Zwane will have his work cut out for him. Being a caretaker coach and a head coach are two completely different roles, with different expectations.
Yes, the Soweto giants go into this season on a back foot, but that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve anything. Football is about taking your chances, sometimes you ride your luck or the dice just falls for you. It happens all the time, but if you are talking about planned success, then you won’t be expecting the two teams to be challenging Downs for the league title this season. You will, rather, expect them to give as much as they can, laying a solid foundation for next season. These two teams are not more stable than Cape Town City, Stellenbosch FC, Royal AM and others and, for the record, this has absolutely nothing to do with the weekend’s results.
The abovementioned teams raised their hands last season and, as much as we focus on the Soweto giants, we must therefore never fall into the trap of overlooking them because they don’t command as much support. They are slowly making a name for themselves, sometimes at the expense of the two ‘sleeping’ giants of our football. When you look at the number of signings made by Sundowns, in comparison to both Bucs and Chiefs, it is as clear as day and night to see who is better positioned. If you take a Downs signing, as an example, not much is expected from them because the team isn’t desperate. They have all the time to be integrated into the team, but can you say the same about Eva Nga and Ashely Du Preez? The two players are under tremendous pressure to make a difference in their new teams and there will be no time to acclimatize, as immediate impact and results are expected. They were signed to help their respective teams out of their quagmire rather than to just assist in improving the quality and competition. Then, when you look at their respective numbers, when last did they score more than 15 goals per season? See where this is going? Pirates and Chiefs supporters expect nothing less than 10 goals from these two this season.
When joining these two teams, you have to hit the ground running because of the desperation that they find themselves in. Sundowns, on the other hand, can take their time to blend the player into the team because they sign to complement what they have rather than to get themselves out of a hole. That’s why when the new signing is finally ready, especially someone from outside of our borders, they then look unstoppable. There’s not as much pressure on them to establish themselves. You also look at the stability in the technical team at Chloorkop compared to Houghton and Naturena. At Sundowns, they still have the same technical team they had after the departure of coach Pitso Mosimane. The other two have changed head coaches more than twice in the last four seasons. Downs have not had wholesale changes in their playing personnel, even though they’ve clearly been on a mission to freshen up their squad. How many times have the other two teams made changes to their squads?
These teams have different challenges going into the new campaign, but it is an open secret that everyone would rather have Downs’ challenges than their two Soweto-based counterparts. Once again, the fact that the teams from Soweto are on the back foot doesn’t mean they will not achieve anything. Maybe, just maybe, their supporters will have to adjust their expectations and put a bit of rationale and reality into the mix. Can Pirates and Chiefs beat Downs to the throne this season?