CAPE TOWN – The fairytale approach to winning a league title, like Leicester City, or as Cape Town City so nearly achieved, is the exception to the rule.
More often than not, the essential ingredient to championship success is a gradual process based on a long-term vision.
Wits decided a few years ago that, cocooned in a developmental environment, they weren’t making sufficient progress as a club. So they ditched that model, and embarked on a journey to elevate the organisation into a title-challenging and, eventually, title-winning outfit.
To do this, there was only one man to turn to – Cape Town coach Gavin Hunt, who had so successfully turned around every club he worked at (Seven Stars, Black Leopards, Moroka Swallows and SuperSport United, with whom he won three successive titles).
When Hunt arrived at Wits in 2013, he quickly set about putting his vision in place and imprinting his work ethic upon the players under his care. Year after year the squad was strengthened as Hunt slowly brought in the players he believed would soon take the club to its maiden PSL title.
The Clever Boys’ squad was dismantled, rebuilt and revamped to Hunt’s vision.
In addition, as Hunt had learned from his mentor – former Hellenic coach Budgie Byrne – he infused the squad with an indomitable spirit, he improved the shape and structure and, importantly, he got them to play for him.
On Wednesday night, all the hard work, commitment and planning came to fruition as Wits defeated Polokwane City 2-0 to be crowned league champions with one game still to play.
It was a victory for plain, old-fashioned hard work and industry, a sound but humble approach, and just reward for every single individual attached to the club.
So let’s have a look at this championship-winning team that Hunt built:
All three are Capetonian – Moeneeb Josephs, Darren Keet and Kyle Peters. It was immediately evident to Hunt that Josephs needed someone to push him, especially as the Mitchell’s Plain-born keeper is now 37 years old.
When Keet decided to return from Europe – where he had been playing for KV Kortrijk – Hunt was quick to snap up the keeper from Bothasig.
The two have been solid and reliable, and both played quite a few games throughout the season.
The important thing was that Josephs and Keet kept each other on their toes, with the result that Hunt was able to draw consistent performances from his number one jersey.
If there’s a player who epitomises the fighting spirit at the heart of the Clever Boys’ title triumph, it’s the captain Thulani Hlatshwayo. He’s not called “Tyson” for nothing – in short, he’s the type of footballer you can go to war with.
Along with Hlatshwayo’s combative instinct, Wits were also able to call on the calm, composed experience of Bongani Khumalo and Nazeer Allie, the youthful enthusiasm of Sifiso Hlanti and that wonderful teenager Reeve Frosler and, importantly, the most outstanding central defender in the PSL this season, Buhle Mkhwanazi.
It’s here, however, where Wits’ strength came through. In central midfield, the men tasked with shielding the defence, shutting out the opposition and holding everything together, Hunt had assembled a fine array of talent.
Truth be told, this was probably his master-stroke. It was more than likely the area that defined their title success, the department where they were a cut above the rest of the PSL.
With the diligence, dedication and determination of industrious midfielders like Xolani Mlambo, Thabang Monare, Phumlani Ntshangase, Ben Motshwari and Granwald Scott, the Wits coach was never in a position where he had to relinquish strength in this position.
Out wide, of course, there was the irrepressible Daine Klate – and what more needs to be said? Six PSL titles (three with SuperSport, two with Orlando Pirates and now one with Wits)... That’s simply remarkable.
Malawian Gabadinho Mhango was the go-to man in that his pace, power and unsettling presence in attack created havoc in opposing defences, leading to goals not just for him but for teammates who were around to pick up the scraps.
Teenager Phakamani Mahlambi also came to the fore, and it was sad that he picked up a bad injury towards the end of the season.
The injury led to him withdrawing from the SA U20 squad participating in the junior World Cup in South Korea.
But at least Mahlambi can console himself that his performances were vital in paving the way for Wits’ journey to success.
Also, and just to emphasise the depth and quality of the squad that Hunt had put together, there were top strikers like James Keene, Cuthbert Malajila and Eleazar Rodgers who regularly chipped in with valuable goals when needed.