Going to different countries on the continent to play friendlies is the best preparation for Champions League, says Tshepang Mailwane.
Johannesburg - Pitso Mosimane usually says he loves going on an “African safari”. He enjoyed playing in the CAF Champions League when he was coach at SuperSport United, a club he led to the group stage in 2004 with the likes of Ricardo Katza, Abram Raselemane, Richard Rantjie, and Tsweu Mokoro.
It’s that love Mosimane has for taking trips to countries on this continent that will probably see his current club, Mamelodi Sundowns, do very well in the Champions League next year.
Ever since Mosimane took over from Dutchman Johan Neeskens, Sundowns have taken pre-season trips to Ghana and Zambia, playing against clubs that have Champions League experience such as Zanaco, Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko.
Sundowns were in Ghana for about 10 days during the last pre-season, and in January during CHAN when the PSL was on a break, Mosimane took the opportunity to travel to Zambia for about two weeks when some of his players – the likes of Surprise Moriri, Anthony Laffor, Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Mzikayise Mashaba and Lebohang Mokoena – resurrected their careers.
This weekend, recently crowned PSL champions Sundowns are in Namibia to play in a four-team tournament and they could still take another trip to the west of Africa before the 2014/15 Premiership season starts. Talk is that they could go to Nigeria or the DRC, where the likes of TP Mazembe, AS Vita and St Eloi Lupopo are renowned for taking part in continental club competitions regularly.
Now what better way is there to prepare for the Champions League than going to different countries on the continent to play friendly matches?
I had a chat with Sundowns right-back Mphahlele at the PSL awards last Sunday and he explained how players are getting to understand the importance of taking trips around Africa. No player likes leaving his family behind for longer than a week, but Mphahlele admitted that the trips have made the players stronger mentally and that could be vital for Sundowns when they take part in the competition next season.
Sundowns are likely to play clubs from the southern African region in the early stages and the trip to Namibia will help them familiarise themselves with the environment.
This, I believe, is what other clubs in the PSL should be doing so that we can improve on our performances, not only in the Champions League but the Confederation Cup as well.
Of course I know that not many PSL clubs have the kind of money to afford trips of a period of a week, but the ones that can afford to should really consider pre-season trips around the continent.
Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs, SuperSport and Bidvest Wits could probably afford to take their players for a week-long trip somewhere in west Africa so that they get used to the kind of conditions often described as “hostile”.
It should become a regular thing for clubs during pre-season so that they can focus on conquering the continent, not just the PSL. Our clubs should at least be getting to the group stage of the Champions League every season.
The amount of money clubs spend on end-of-season awards functions would probably amount to a trip to Mozambique, Ghana or Nigeria. Also, with the sponsors the big clubs have, they should be able to afford taking a week-long trip.
Chiefs have been to Botswana a couple of times in recent seasons, but Botswana will not really help to prepare the players mentally. Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter said the club was considering taking a trip to Europe but that’s also not likely to help if they want to do well in the Champions League next year. They should scrap that plan, if they are indeed serious about Europe, and stay on the continent instead to prepare for next year’s Champions League after their disappointing campaign this year.
The trips around Africa could also benefit our clubs in terms of spotting talent. After all, we do need some strikers to come and light up the PSL.
* Follow Tshepang on Twitter @T_Mailwane