The PremierSoccer League (PSL) swings into action this weekend, kicking off with tomorrow’s opening league game featuring defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns against Maritzburg United in Pretoria.
Local hopes Ajax Cape Town are in action on Sunday, when they are in Durban to take on AmaZulu.
Football in South Africa has always had major hurdles to clear in its desire to progress as a sport. While there is a definite love for the game, the decades of segregated football has had a massive effect on how the sport is perceived.
But, back then, football was, in Karl Marx’s words, “the opium of the masses”. Many would say it remains the case.
Since the unification of football in the early 1990s, huge amounts of money have flooded into the sport as sponsors zero in on the target markets for their products. But, despite this financial injection, and the improved professionalism in the running of the PSL, football still has its challenges.
Crowd figures continue to decrease as television audiences increase, sponsorship is skewed to a chosen few, the quality of the football hasn’t improved much over the years, and power struggles within the sport remain as rife and relentless as ever.
Looking ahead to the new season, it seems that, much like in the top European leagues, it’s simply a case of “money talks”. During the last campaign, Sundowns spent heavily and their investment bore fruit with the lifting of the league trophy.
This season should be no different.
We take a look at the chances of the 16 clubs that will compete in the PSL.
The champions should again emerge from one of the five economic giants – Sundowns, Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs, SuperSport United and Wits.
Coach Pitso Mosimane has made no secret of the fact that, despite winning the title last season by spending big, he will spend even more this season to retain the title. This has seen the arrival of Senegalese striker Mame Niang, and two highly-rated emerging footballers in Luyolo Nomandela and Lindokuhle Mbatha. How Mosimane juggles this bloated squad is key to the Pretoria club’s chances of winning the championship again.
This should be a big season for the Buccaneers. Serbian coach Vladimir Vermezovic, who took over towards the end of last season, has now had time to adapt to his new surroundings and imprint his philosophy on the squad. Pirates strengthened their squad with Issa Sarr, who will add some steel to their midfield, and striker Lehlohonolo Majoro, from whom goals are expected. If you are thinking of popping off to the bookie to get in a bet, stick something on Pirates for the title.
Amakhosi haven’t been too active in the transfer market, but don’t let that fool you. They still have a very strong squad, with probably one of the shrewdest coaches in the PSL in Englishman Stuart Baxter. With their undoubted pedigree and unrivalled support on the terraces, they should again be right in there challenging come the end of the season.
Coach Cavin Johnson was brought in last season to change the style of football at the usually dour SuperSport. Johnson, though, would have been disappointed with his team’s showing in the last campaign. But having had a year in charge, he would now have had time to get things done his way. New players include Capetonian Clayton Daniels, Michael Morton and Dove Wome, and this will be a make-or-break season for Johnson and SuperSport.
The Joburg club made their intentions clear last season by appointing Gavin Hunt as coach: No longer would they just be a development club; they want to win the title. Backed by a multi-million-rand corporate entity, Wits have spent lavishly in attracting top players to the club. Last season, they showed the necessary improvement and, this time, they will be looking to go all the way.
HAVING grown in stature over the last few years, they will again be tough to beat, especially at home in Rustenburg. Cape Town striker Eleazar Rodgers has moved here from Sundowns, and he will be a good addition to their attack.
Ajax Cape Town
While the Cape side finished outside the top eight last season, there is great optimism that they will show great improvement. Coach Roger de Sa is settled in, the squad has been strengthened, and top youngsters like Keagan Dolly and Abbubakar Mobara now have more experience.
the Durban club started well last year, but fell away towards the end of the season. With that in mind, coach Craig Rosslee would have impressed the need for consistency on his hard-working squad. They should again be in there, contending for a top-eight position.
Always an exciting side to watch, the big question is just how the club’s new ownership will approach things. If they stick to the recipe that works and allow coach Ernst Middendorp to get on with the job, they should be alright.
Middle of the road
The Soweto team has under-performed, but coach Zeca Marques is confident of a better showing this season. Veteran Siyabonga Nomvethe remains the Birds’ trump card.
Surprise package of the season last time, veteran coach Clive Barker’s Mpumalanga side has to prove that it was no flash in the pan.
Flush with cash thanks to a multi-million-rand sponsorship from the City of Pietermaritzburg, coach Steve Komphela’s side are talking of challenging for the top eight this season.
That remains to be seen, though, and they have to go out and prove they have the squad to do justice to that financial injection.
University of Pretoria
Under astute coach Steve Barker, Tuks remain a side very tough to get the better of.
They play to their strengths and are always well structured and organised.
Promoted to the PSL this season, the PE-based side has major ambitions of punching above their weight. They have revamped their squad and believe that their relocation from the Cape to PE will benefit the club. Let’s see…
Free State Stars
A club that appears to have fallen on tough times. They haven’t done well for quite a while, even though they have managed to avoid relegation. They should struggle again.
The Boebie Solomons-coached club managed to hang on to their PSL status by winning the play-offs. This season though, they probably won’t be that lucky – and should be favourites for relegation. - Cape Argus