Last week’s conclusion of the Absa Premiership season saw Orlando Pirates continue their domination of local football. A second successive treble for the Sea Robbers had their supremo, Irvin Khoza, purring about creating a dynasty, and the reality is that Pirates have made winning a habit.
“It’s about legacy, because these are things that money can’t buy for my players,” Khoza said in the aftermath of the |4-2 victory over Golden Arrows at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
“It is a team full of character, even in times of adversity. We have withstood many challenges and \[koos.fischer\]some people had even written us off. But we \[koos.fischer\]have prevailed again.”
Of course, Pirates had started the season with plans of an African adventure.
“We need to learn from our mistakes, and do much better in the Champions League,” Khoza insisted.
His star signing, Benni McCarthy, concurred.
“That’s what playing for Pirates is all about, winning big titles. We are making it a trend, winning trebles, and we’re setting the standard in the country now.”
While McCarthy’s chest-beating may not be everyone’s cup of tea, what he is saying is patently true.
Pirates are now the benchmark, and it is up to their under-whelming arch-rivals, Kaizer Chiefs, as well as Tshwane’s Mamelodi Sundowns and Supersport United to catch up.
This week, Supersport and Chiefs were tussling off the field, as Kaizer Motaung put the pay channel-backed side in its place over claims that Chiefs and Pirates were ruining football in South Africa by hoarding all the big money deals.
Yet, for all their money, Chiefs have come to resemble a side that is all at sea. In-fighting, a change of coach, and a rare trophyless campaign was the sum of Chiefs’ significant huffing this past season.
They probably have \[koos.fischer\]the most ground to make up if they plan to remain \[koos.fischer\]as Pirates’s big rivals.
The biggest surprise of the season was surely Moroka Swallows, who took the title race to the last day, thanks to the goals of Siyabonga Nomvethe, and the guile of coach Gordon Igesund.
The much travelled and highly decorated tactician seems to have a knack for title run-ins, and he provides perhaps the best representation of what is needed to succeed in South African football.
\[koos.fischer\]A mix of European organisation, with a hint of the “freedom of expression” that so many flopping stars bleat about whenever a foreign coach departs from a club.
Igesund’s ability to get the best out of discards is \[koos.fischer\]also a tribute to his management skills. Swallows, on paper, had experience, but nothing to write home about. And yet, come the last day, they were one result away from the unlikeliest of Cinderella stories. \[koos.fischer\]
Another manager who covered himself in glory is Steve Khompela, whose Free State Stars outfit graduated from merely being called giant-killers, to being one of the foremost clubs in the country.
It was a surprise, after months of hints suggesting as much, when he wasn’t handed the challenge of invigorating his former club Chiefs when they showed Vladimir Vermezovic the door.
Khompela is another who has focussed more on team cohesion than star quality. His stock has risen significantly, and though he has already been called up as an assistant to Pitso Mosimane, the Bafana coach would be wise to stop making excuses and start getting resultsv – before Khompela’s name is linked with the biggest job in the country.
In KZN circles, Amazulu stood head and shoulders above their rivals. Under the astute Roger Palmgren, there is a young nucleus at “Usuthu” and the challenge for the Swede will be to make sure that he keeps them together, and playing the type of football that they were renowned for in the early 1990s.
The fans, so often a 12th man for the men in green, are also returning to the stands, a sure sign that they are happier with what they are seeing. Amazulu’s fine run in the Nedbank Cup – a competition that seems to bring out their best – was also encouraging.
Golden Arrows, meanwhile, continue to baffle. With one of the best-stocked squads in the country, their lowly finish in the log was simply not good enough.
A team containing the likes of Collins Mbesuma upfront, the creativity of Katlego Mashego, Dillon Sheppard and Siyabonga Nkosi, as well as the experience of Thanduyise Khuboni, should be achieving far more. Muhsin Ertugral replaced Ernst Middendorp, after a dismal start, but the Turk hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory.
Maritzburg United’s days as a KZN club seem to be numbered. The management at the Team of Choice are resigned to playing the majority of their “home games” away from their Harry Gwala fortress.
Their sudden parting with the popular Ian Palmer saw Middendorp return, and the German made good on his vow to keep them in the Premiership. They suddenly have a goal poacher in Cuthbert Malajila, and they seem likely to continue being a tough nut to crack for bigger sides, as their wins over the “Big Three” of Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns attested.
The 2012/13 season brings with it the endless pursuit for progress in Africa. Pirates will try to emulate the immortals of 1995, and Bafana will try to regain the respect of the continent when they host the Cup of Nations.
If nothing else, it will certainly be intriguing.