DURBAN – The rivalry between Mamelodi Sundowns and Maritzburg United extends beyond this afternoon’s MTN8 quarter-final duel in Atteridgeville (3pm).
Simmering boardroom tensions between the clubs related to transfer market dealings overshadow this tie, and mean there is a bit more at stake than advancement to the semi-final draw that will take place afterwards.
The Midlands outfit are disgruntled over some of the on/off player deals with the Brazilians.
In turn, Maritzburg believe Sundowns are peeved at losing out to the Team of Choice for Ghana international goalkeeper Richard Ofori.
The shot-stopper was also a target of the African champions, but he instead chose to join Maritzburg from Ghana side Wa All Stars.
Ofori won’t feature today because of a delay in obtaining his international transfer clearance.
This means that youngster Jethren Barr, signed recently as a third-choice, will step up to the bench for his first appearance in the match-day squad to deputise for Bongani Mpandle.
“We believe Sundowns are upset that Ofori signed with us. In principle, the deal is done and only his clearance is to arrive. The player signed only with us, and not with Sundowns,” said Maritzburg chairman Farook Kadodia.
On the other hand, Kadodia was not pleased at the way Sundowns withdrew their interest in Deolin Mekoa. The winger had long been earmarked as a transfer target by the Pretoria side and talks were ongoing, only for Sundowns to pull out without early indication.
One of Maritzburg’s key players over the past three seasons, utility defender Kwanda Mngonyama, is also unavailable because Sundowns recalled him from his loan spell in the Midlands.
Maritzburg made it clear they wanted him, and according to Kadodia, the defender-cum-midfielder also wishes to play in his home province, but Sundowns are dragging their feet in deciding the player’s future.
On top of all that, another reported Sundowns target, Kenyan international central defender Brian Onyango, is sidelined because he is in the process of applying for his permanent residence, which would enable him to be registered as a local player instead of one of the five designated foreigners.
With such a compromised backline, this should be Sundowns’ game for the taking, and in regulation time, too.
The PSL runners-up are strengthened by the acquisition of attacking midfielder George Lebese and fellow midfielder Oupa Manyisa from Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates respectively.
Even before those latest transfer window captures, Sundowns were formidable opponents, given their standing as African champions and their pedigree in knockout competitions, said Team of Choice coach Fadlu Davids.
“They have an advantage because they are used to playing in high-level competitions, and they have been sending their scouts to watch our games, so they’re very well prepared.
“They had Floyd Mogale come to our friendlies and Manqoba Mngqithi also watched us play, so as African champions, this game is there for them.”
One player Davids can call on to plug some of the defensive gaps is Siyanda Xulu. The former international arrived during pre-season after a forgettable two years at Chiefs, where he saw little game time.
Davids will hope that Xulu’s stature as a former Sundowns rising star, who also played in Russia before returning to Chiefs, inspires the rest of his squad.
Although short of match fitness, Xulu is available for selection.