Wits v Sundowns clash could set tone for this season’s title race
IN MAY 2016, Mamelodi Sundowns set a new record for points earned to win the Absa Premiership title.
A year later, although not reaching that magical 71 points to clinch the championship, Bidvest Wits were crowned Premier League winners to end a 96-year drought for one of the oldest clubs in South Africa.
And then about 12 months later the Brazilians re-earned the title.
These are clearly the two most successful clubs in the country over the past three years – the trophy cabinet is evidence.
Both coaches, Pitso Mosimane at Sundowns and Wits’ Gavin Hunt, are long serving in terms of how long they have been in charge of these two teams.
Billionaire and mining magnate Patrice Motsepe had to chase Mosimane for several months to get him to take over the reins at Chloorkop when Dutchman Johan Neeskens looked well on his way to relegating them in December 2012.
Hunt arrived to change the small team mentality at Wits five months later, following incredible success at SuperSport United, where he’d won three successive championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the Nedbank Cup in 2012.
There are seven Premier League titles between the two coaches, and that has always made for a bit of banter whenever they cross paths.
Today at Lucas Moripe Stadium (3.30pm kick-off) will be no different – so many scores to settle in this early scene-setter for the championship race.
Sundowns completed the double over the Clever Boys last season, winning 2-0 in both the first and second rounds of the Premier League campaign.
It was a Wits side that flirted with relegation as they suffered ‘second season syndrome’ giving Hunt the biggest test of his coaching career. Things are different this time. Wits are top of the log after eight matches and have 16 points, just six more than Sundowns, who have two games in hand but have found this new season slightly tricky after the departure of Percy Tau and Khama Billiat.
Hunt, too, has made drastic changes – bringing in 11 new players to the team and shipping out quite a few who were perhaps too complacent and maybe even tired of hearing the same voice, tactics and way of doing things.
In this business, it’s either the players who go or the coach walks away. Hunt stayed and appears to have rejuvenated the Clever Boys.
Mosimane – thanks to Motsepe’s massive budget – has often found it easy to replace quality with quality, and sometimes even younger and better.
The search for someone to take over from Tau was completed in August when Phakamani Mahlambi arrived from Egypt’s Al Ahly, who coincidentally signed him from Wits shortly after their league triumph last year.
Wits mostly looked for free agents to start afresh, while the Brazilians, in true Motsepe fashion, threw the chequebook at the problem.
It’s at the end of the season where we will see who got it right, but this afternoon is all about staying ahead of the chasing pack and sending out a big statement with three points.
Also today: Baroka FC v SuperSport United, Golden Arrows v Black Leopards (both 3.30pm)