Maritzburg reach for their cup dream
FOUR games into the season, Maritzburg United find themselves one match away from achieving one of their mandates of the campaign, an appearance in a cup final.
Victory or a goalless draw against SuperSport United in the second leg of the MTN8 semi-final at the Harry Gwala Stadium in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday night will take the home side into their first cup final.
The Midlands outfit already made club history by reaching this stage of the season-opening knockout competition. It’s only the second time Maritzburg have featured in the top eight competition.
The last time they fell out at the first hurdle. This time they surprised African champions Mamelodi Sundowns 1-0 away in the opener, and followed up with a 1-1 draw against SuperSport in Pretoria in the semifinal first leg almost a fortnight ago.
In between coach Fadlu Davids steered the team to two league wins without conceding a goal, which makes this their brightest start to a PSL campaign.
At the launch of the season Maritzburg chairman Farook Kadodia said they wanted to achieve a top five finish in the league and make one cup final appearance.
“We have been in the Nedbank Cup and Telkom Knockout semi-finals (losing to Orlando Pirates on both occasions), but this is a different tournament with a winner-takes-all format,” said Kadodia.
Two seasons ago, the team nicknamed the Team of Choice almost got relegated. So this cup run is something they will relish, especially as they often battle against the league’s big guns, who boast deeper pockets courtesy of title sponsorships.
The club recently secured a three-year sponsorship from the Msunduzi Municipality, worth R9 million a year, but are still in the red.
The winner-takes-all format of the MTN8 means the champion will bank R8 million. That would be a massive financial injection for a club of Maritzburg’s stature.
The Midlands outfit are guaranteed R800 000 as an appearance fee even if they fall out at any stage.
“We came through a long struggle from the Federation League days when Maritzburg was formed, and it’s a major challenge to keep the banner flying. We are grateful to still have community support.
“The partnership with the municipality has helped to stabilise the club, but we need a title sponsor to grow the brand and add development structures,” said the chairman.
With a refreshing approach from new coach Davids – this is his debut season full-time – Kadodia is excited about the future on and off the field.
“We are number five in the PSL in terms of brand awareness. We made a significant investment to improve our value content.
“The branding and viewership took a major jump last season. The mandate two years ago was to play attractive football, although we were fighting relegation.
“We swung it with the way we were playing and the acquisition of young players who are becoming household names.
“We have fresh, exciting players and the youngest technical team with Fadlu and his brother, Mahier. The coach has brought a new culture and a brand of playing which everyone is enjoying.
“While there’s jubilation at getting the away goal, we still have to work on September 9 to take us into the final. But the ball is in our hands,” said Kadodia.
Davids, 36, the holder of a UEFA B licence, was given the responsibility of coaching the unit after two seasons of spells as caretaker coach.
He has spent much of his career as a player and assistant coach with the Team of Choice, having made an impact with Manning Rangers following a period in the Bulgarian league.
Davids will rely on Zimbabwean forward Evans Rusike to lead the vibrant front line. Rusike has three goals in league and cup action, and appears to be back to form after a quiet campaign last term.
The other rising star is Lebohang Maboe, a winger-striker who slotted the equaliser in the first leg.
Defensively, former Bafana Bafana international Siyanda Xulu has been making the most of his game time after two years of virtual anonymity at Kaizer Chiefs.
With home ground advantage, and buoyed by the away goal, Maritzburg should fancy their chances of reaching their maiden cup final.
To promote this fixture, those who buy a replica team jersey from the club office at 397 Victoria Road in Pietermaritzburg will get a free ticket for the match.
Bafana Bafana defender Siyanda Xulu was among a host of promising new signings announced by Maritzburg United recently.