The 09/10 ABSA Premiership season is in its quarter way stage and we are, although many may say it’s premature, beginning to see which of the 16 top flight contenders have made their intentions known as far as being at the apex of the league in February. Yes, February. Unlike the previous footballing season this one, if the fixtures schedule adhered to, will end in February and not in May as we usually know it to end. Although his team has jumped out the starting blocks first, Orlando Pirates coach and August/September Coach of the Month- Rudolph Krol has vehemently criticised the decision to have the fixture crammed up in order to finish in earlier and give Bafana Bafana the necessary time, God knows they need every minute, to ‘gel’ for the World Cup. Krol said that South Africa was not the first country to host a world cup and all this bending backwards is a bit too taxing for the teams.
It was generally expected that either Pirates or the defending champions, SuperSport United would be the teams to beat. Simply because both teams gave us a photo finish to the last campaign. And as the league standing suggest, the pundits were correct. What wasn’t expected by many soccer following people was the dismal start to the current by likes of Kaizer Chiefs and five time champions Mamelodi Sundowns. But the most alarming to some extent has been that of Chiefs who were showing signs of a team that would end its 4 year drought of league success. It has to be said that the fact that Chiefs, like Sundowns, have a new coach and getting the teams to ‘click’ takes a bit of time and losses will be suffered in the process. When teams command the kind of following Chiefs and Sundowns do there are no justifications for any loss.
Unfancied teams such as the Bloemfontein Celtic, who have the most supportive followers any team could ask for, have had a not so surprising start to the season. If one takes into account the good acquisitions they made during the transfer period. The performance so far suggests that a top eight finish is on the cards as long as consistency prevails. Anything less than that would be a middle finger to the scores of the Masele faithful who have continued to pack their matches. Roger De Sa’s Bidvest Wits has started pretty well. In fact, their performance so far resembles their 06/07 season when they returned to the top flight after a season in the National First Division. They started rather well but the disease of the league- inconsistency caught up with them. De Sa has to threaten the status quo of league winners ‘expectation’ and show us what he has been cooking with a squad of players he has had for some two seasons. Golden Arrows is another team that has great potential to usurp the establishment of South African expectations. They have already done so this season by qualifying for the maiden cup final (MTN 8) in their 10 year history in the PSL and are the first KwaZulu Natal team to make it a final of a knockout competition since, the now defunct, Maning Ranger in the 03/04 and Ranger lost that match to Moroka Swallows 3-1.
In fact, one has to go back to the 1992 Coca Cola Cup final when AmaZulu beat Chiefs 3-1 in order to speak of KZN team being victorious. So any silverware for the KZN outfit would do the province’s footballing culture a lot of good. Premier soccer returnees Jomo Cosmos and Mpumalanga Black Aces respectively have, perhaps expectedly so, shown signs of being the early candidates of teams to get the chop in February. Aces are the more likely team because they haven’t played in the elite league in years. AmaZulu have also struggled to translate their form that saw them finish in the top eight last season. Platinum Stars are not looking very convincing so far but it will be seen if they will tap into the pot of form that saw them lift the inaugural Telkom Knockout.
Those who continue to say that it is still ‘early’ will realize when it is too late that every 3 points that is contested for in important. If the points weren’t important they wouldn’t be contested for. Every point gained is step closer in either winning the league, finishing in the top eight or, perhaps more critically escaping the relegation guillotine. Pirates and SuperSport still have to go and compete in the CAF Champions League and Swallows are heading to the CAF Confederations Cup and that will also be taxing on the aforementioned teams and them collecting as much points as they can might prove very critical to them in the long run, or short run seeing that this season will be quite short. It would be great to see league champions coming out of Gauteng. Because 11 of the 13 league titles in PSL history have been won by teams from the central province (Sundowns 5, Chiefs 2, Pirates 2, SuperSport 2) with the other 2 title going to KZN (Rangers) and Western Cape ( Engen Santos) respectively. Most regions in many leagues across the world have teams representing them in their respective elite leagues and that’s how the support is raised. People pride themselves in teams that host the flags of their local places.
**After the past weekend South African Football Association’s elections we now have a new leadership under the stewardship of President Kirsten Nematandani. Mandla Mazibuko and Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana are his deputies. It is a breathe of fresh air after the ineffective 12 year presidency of Molife Oliphant. Good luck to the new SAFA leadership. It is a huge task that awaits them. Hopefully they will do as they promise. The election were filled with their drama and it has been reported that chairman of the Local Organizing Committee of the FIFA World Cup, Irvin Khoza will be challenging the results of the previous weekend’s election that he walked out on. Let’s wait and see.