JOHANNESBURG – It would be worth their while for Maritzburg United and Free State Stars to ask those who have been there and done that on the continent how their participation in the CAF tournaments next season will affect their season.
The two clubs reached the final of the Nedbank Cup at the weekend, Maritzburg upsetting the odds by thrashing Mamelodi Sundowns 3-1 on Sunday afternoon and Stars adding to Kaizer Chiefs’ misery with a clinical 2-0 victory the night before.
This now means either coach Fadlu Davids’ Maritzburg or Luc Eymael’s Ea Lla Koto will represent South Africa in the said tournament next season by virtue of winning the cup on May 19. But it could well be both seeing that their current Absa Premiership positions - with just three games remaining - put them in contention for a place in this competition.
Davids has impressed with his youthful and energetic side from KwaZulu-Natal in his first full season as a head coach. He has admitted the next season will be challenging as it is easy for a team to be complacent on the back of success and fall into the "second season syndrome" trap.
A continental sojourn, as many will know, is not for the faint-hearted. While his young team will benefit immensely from such an experience, and maybe even enhance their chances of making the Bafana Bafana squad, Maritzburg could be stretched.
The same could be said about Eymael’s Bethlehem-based Stars. Of course the coach is no novice when it comes to CAF tournaments, having been in that space with numerous clubs in Africa and doing quite well in fact. But is his current crop of players ready for this challenge, especially at a club that has a policy of selling its top performers to make up for not having a main sponsor after Bonitas pulled the plug some years back?
Maritzburg, too, do not have a main sponsor. These are the questions to ask when planning ahead for the 2018-19 campaign with an eye on consistency.
Black Leopards, Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United have all been case studies of just how tough it can be to try to find a balance between the domestic league and travelling around the continent - and some of these clubs have had the financial muscle to cope, maybe even enough depth in the squad for rotation, but still found it extremely demanding.
Sundowns are the exception, really, and the reasons for that are pretty obvious.
Davids is making a name for himself this season with what he has done with the side from the Midlands and it would be unfair to put pressure on him to fly the SA flag in CAF tournaments when he has only just started.
Maybe his counterpart Eymael isn’t under as much pressure because of his experience at that level, but he is not at a club that is ready to take on this mammoth task, I don’t think. The best scenario here is to prioritise excelling in the league and gaining valuable experience on the continent without raising expectations.
Both coaches have worked so hard this season, so it would be a pity to let that all be undone in the next one, placing the clubs at risk of relegation yet again. It could be an unpopular route to take, but a necessary one for stability's sake.