PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 12, Johan Neeskens, speaks to his players during the Mamelodi Sundowns media open day at Chloorkop on April 12, 2012 in Pretoria, South Africa Photo by Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images

In an ideal world, a team of the stature of Mamelodi Sundowns should be reigning supreme in domestic football circles.

Despite boasting an astronomic budget, a top international coach and a number of extremely gifted players, Sundowns are still on par with the rest of the teams in the PSL. By now, the Brazilians, backed by billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe, were supposed to be leading the Absa Premiership table by a considerable margin but they lie second with 46 points, two points behind log leaders Orlando Pirates.

At some point this season, the men coached by former Barcelona star Johan Neeskens had a seven point lead at the top league but after the Christmas break they capitulated and allowed Pirates to overtake them.

Shockingly, Sundowns have not won a match at home this year. A loss and six draws in their own backyard has raised more questions than answers.

Sundowns have recently lost two consecutive matches against Platinum Stars and Maritzburg United. “It’s shocking,” said former Downs coach Ted Dumitru. “Looking at the money that is spent and to have these kind of results is unusual and upsetting for supporters. I don’t think Maritzburg’s budget is 10% of what Sundowns uses.”

Dumitru, who led Sundowns to two league titles, says lack of spark, inconsistency, restriction of creativity and predictable approach are what undid the good deeds Sundowns did in the first half of the season.

“Sundowns are predictable. Every opposition know how to play against them. If they close their attacking channels and make sure they mark certain players, Sundowns will have it difficult. On paper, Sundowns should have won the league by now,” said Dumitru.

The team’s creative players – Teko Modise, Elias Pelembe, Anthony Laffor and marksman Katlego Mphela – have not lived up to expectations.

The quartet were supposed to lead the Brazilians to the promised land but they have found the going tough. Dumitru feels some of these players have been restricted or have lost motivation.

“A player like Pelembe should be given a free role. If you play him in restricted position, you won’t get the best out of him. He is not a wing player. He is more than that. He is frustrated. He needs a liberal role. Laffor is another that you don’t use in restricted area. It’s difficult to comprehend that he is not doing well.

“He is like in a cage. In other leagues, international players are given free roles,” said the former Kaizer Chiefs coach.

“As an outside observer, Sundowns players have shown that they are restricted. When you have that type of quality, allow them to interchange and play everywhere. If a player is all over, it is difficult for opponents to deal with him.”

With prolific scorer Mphela in and out of the team, Sundowns have battled to score. Mphela has managed just 10 goals so far this season despite boasting one of the best strike rates – a goal every two matches.

“I don’t think he is motivated anymore. I don’t see his motivation. There was a point he wanted to go overseas and things didn’t work out. The way he plays for the national team and Sundowns is different. I don’t blame him.

“He is not the same player anymore,” said the former Bafana Bafana coach.

Neeskens has challenged his men to be more offensive in their next four matches against Santos, Chiefs, SuperSport United and Free State Stars.

The Dutch coach believes attack will be essential for the championship hopefuls. Dumitru says the men from Chloorkop have to brace themselves for torrid time.

It remains to be seen if Sundowns can shrug off their mishaps and march all the way to the league triumph. – Pretoria News