Get ready for a remarkable ride
No football tournament provides as many thrills, spills and a roller coaster of emotions as the league race does, writes S’Busiso Mseleku as he gazes into the Absa Premiership crystal ball Fixtures
The usual suspects
Every football league in the world has its usual suspects who start almost every championship campaign wearing the “favourites” tag.
These are usually clubs that have either dominated the league in the recent past or those that have acquired new money.
The Absa Premiership is no different.
At the beginning of every season, Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates start as favourites due to their deep pockets, as well as tradition.
After several titles, SuperSport United have climbed on the bandwagon and so have defending champions Bidvest Wits, who brought the bacon home last season after knocking at the door for several years.
A surprise run last season also throws newcomers Cape Town City into the mix.
So, despite their poor performance in the past season, no betting person would leave out Chiefs and Pirates, even if it’s just to hedge his or her bets. Another aspect that is increasingly becoming a feature in determining the final destination of the league title is the quality of the arsenal each club possesses in its armoury.
After their latest acquisitions, who include George Lebese from Chiefs, Oupa Manyisa from Pirates and Ghana international Brimah Razak, Sundowns are in the pound seats as odds-on favourites to annex the top prize. Pirates have also been quite busy in a bid to avoid last season’s disaster, which saw them finish in an unfashionable 11th position. After revealing “prodigal son” Milutin “Micho” Sredojević last week, the club followed up by roping in Rhulani Mokwena as his assistant.
Mokwena has carved a niche for himself in the South African football landscape as one of the key cogs in Pitso Mosimane’s well-oiled technical machine.
With players such as goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands, Thami Sangweni and Musa Nyatama also having been captured by the Buccaneers, they are sure to mount a serious challenge, not only for the league honours, but also for the other silverware that has proved elusive. And the manner in which Wits and City have strengthened their squads should be cause for broad smiles from both Gavin Hunt and Benni McCarthy – now that their tasks have been made easier.
It remains to be seen whether Eric Tinkler can carry the momentum he gained with The Citizens, and whether he will be able to build on the foundation laid by Stuart Baxter at SuperSport United.
League regulations stipulate that there should be 16 clubs contesting the championship. This means there will always be those who are there to make up the numbers and who could finish anywhere between the top eight, middle and lower rungs of the log.
Platinum Stars, Lamontville Golden Arrows, Polokwane City and Maritzburg United fit snugly into this category.
AmaZulu, who have returned via the back door after buying the Thanda Royal Zulu status, announced their parting of ways with coach Joey Antipas and assistant coach Prince Matore.
The Zimbabwean duo has been replaced by Cavin Johnson, but I see them joining Stars, Baroka FC and Bloemfontein Celtic in the dogfight against relegation.
Let the games begin
So, as the season begins with a full fixture that starts with defending champions Wits hosting Cape Town City on Friday, four fixtures on Saturday and three on Sunday
we might have an inkling of what to expect by the end of the weekend.
However, the real verdict will come on May 9, which is scheduled to be the last day of the 2017/18 Absa Premiership season with a full fixture of eight matches.
(see box), Arsenal
SuperSport United vs Mamelodi Sundowns (Lucas Moripe Stadium, 3pm); Polokwane City vs Baroka FC (Old Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3pm); AmaZulu FC vs Free State Stars (King Zwelithini Stadium, 3pm); Orlando Pirates vs Chippa United (Orlando Stadium 6pm); Ajax Cape Town vs Golden Arrows (Cape Town Stadium, 8:15pm)
Bloemfontein Celtic vs Kaizer Chiefs (Free State Stadium, 3pm); Platinum Stars vs Maritzburg United (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, 3pm)
EXPERIENCE Gavin Hunt is capable of defending the title he won with Bidvest Wits last season
FAVOURITE Pitso Mosimane may lead Sundowns to the Absa title
ON GUARD Milutin Sredojević has a point to prove at Orlando Pirates