CPE TOWN - Football is back. Finally. Now it’s time to focus on the on-field action rather than the off-field nonsense that has distracted us over the last few months.
The 2018-19 PSL season kicks off this weekend, with a high-profile fixture between Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs at Loftus on Saturday (3pm kickoff), followed by Cape Town City at home to SuperSport United at Cape Town Stadium (6pm kickoff). What can we expect this season? Who are the favourites?
“I think Mamelodi Sundowns are again the team to watch,” said former Ajax Cape Town and Bafana Bafana striker Nathan Paulse. “They’ve made some good signings and are obvious contenders again. They’ll miss Percy Tau (now at Brighton & Hove Albion in England), so it will be interesting to see if they have someone to fill his shoes.
“The other team to look out for is Orlando Pirates. I think they have grown a lot in recent times, in terms of intensity, structure and organisation. As for Chiefs, I’m not too sure - I don’t think they are where they should be. But if Khama (Billiat) can come to the party, then there might be something there.”
Former Bafana central defender Matthew Booth had no hesitation in who he was supporting for the championship this season. “If Pirates keep up the momentum they had in the second half of last season, then they are my favourites to win the title,” said Booth.
Both Paulse and Booth expected Cape Town City to do well this season, and also spoke about their disappointment of the Mother City losing the Urban Warriors as a PSL club.
“Obviously, coming from Cape Town, I’m disappointed in what has happened to Ajax,” said Booth. “Cape Town deserves two or three teams in the PSL, especially when you look at the amount of talent available in the region. So the loss of Ajax is a blow.
“It now means that Cape Town City will have to fly the flag for the region. The big loss for them will be Robyn Johannes (now with Wits). For me, he has been their stand-out player over the last two seasons and how they go this season will depend on whether they can adequately replace him. It has been good, though, to see Kwanda (Mngonyama) do well, he has looked good.”
Paulse made no secret of his feelings about Ajax’s demise: “Yes, Ajax going down to the NFD is a huge loss for the Cape, but, to be honest, it has been their own doing; they only have themselves to blame.
"Now, though, they have to put it behind them, and focus on getting back to the PSL. It won’t be easy, the NFD is a tough league and they will be coming up against ambitious, hungry teams ready to scrap for everything. If Ajax want to get back, they have to be just as hungry and just as committed," he said.
“So, for us in the Cape, it leaves us with City and they are a very exciting team. They’ve planned well and, in Benni (McCarthy), they have a brave coach who gives opportunities to young players. City have again shaken things up by the signings they’ve made - and, if they build on what they’ve done over the last two seasons, and they improve on their finishing, then they will be right in there and challenging.”
But, considering the tawdry mess of the Tendai Ndoro saga, and the irreparable harm it caused to football in South Africa, both former players were keen to offer their thoughts on the issue.
“As a whole, I think the Ndoro mess has dragged SA football through the mud,” said Booth. “And, to be honest, especially with Bafana Bafana’s fortunes as well, it means that people are leaving the sport. We aren’t generating any new fans. The Ndoro issue could have been nipped in the bud through dialogue and in trying to find a solution. But, as always in cases like this, there are egos involved and nobody was prepared to put that aside.”
Paulse was adamant that it was time for the PSL to change. If not, he said, there would be more such damaging and controversial incidents in the future. “It has to be said: as far as I am concerned, the PSL has to be run by an independent body,” said Paulse. “Club owners have done well in bringing the sport to where it is now - as a professional organisation - but it’s time to take it to the next level; but we cannot do so if we have biased people making decisions when they clearly have a conflict of interest.”