JOHANNESBURG - Gavin Hunt, the Bidvest Wits coach on the cusp of becoming only the second coach in the Premier Soccer League to win all topflight domestic trophies, says he is excited he finally gets to pick a team again.
That might be confusing to some, but with the Clever Boys’ horror start to their 2017-18 campaign, Hunt has been short of options. The return of several key players from freak injuries and suspensions mean Wits have more than enough depth ahead of Saturday evening’s Telkom Knockout final against Bloemfontein Celtic at the Princess Magogo Stadium in KwaMashu, Durban.
“We have Daylon Claasen, Gabadinho (Mhango) and Ben Motshwari. But do I play them? Those are things we are going to have to discuss,” said Hunt, who has won the championship four times, the Nedbank Cup twice and the MTN8 once.
Only the Telkom Knockout is missing from his accolades, with Pitso Mosimane the only man to successfully win all domestic titles so far.
“It’s a once off game, and you have to ask whether it’s worth putting those guys back in? They are an integral part of us. They give us legs and pace, which we haven’t had this whole first round of the season.”
Claasen and Motshwari had been ruled out due to injuries, while Mhango, the club’s top scorer with 10 goals from 31 matches in all competitions during their Premier League-winning season, was handed a six-game ban by the PSL for a spitting incident on September 20 when Wits lost 3-0 away to AmaZulu.
The Malawian international spat in midfielder Michael Morton’s face.
“Please God, I hope the suspension doesn’t affect him,” Hunt said when asked what type of mindset he expected Mhango to be in following his ban.
“We need a guy like him. He gives us pace, an outlet and we haven’t had that. Listen, he’s not in the greatest goal scoring form, is he? I think he hasn’t scored a goal in a year. I don’t think he ever scored for us in the whole of the second round, and we won the league. But he started off great for us then. Did well, but then went off the boil a little bit. He is different to what we’ve got, and that’s important. We don’t have that.
"We are very static and our movements haven’t been good. If we had him in the last couple of games (Wits are bottom of the log after 11 matches) he would have got something for us. But because of the period he’s been out, to play him will be a gamble, but we need him.”
Although their league game last week was a disappointing goalless draw against Maritzburg United at the Harry Gwala Stadium, Hunt could at least take some positives out of seeing his title-winning defence play together again for the first time this season.
Thulani Hlatshwayo, the skipper, Buhle Mkhwanazi, Nazeer Allie and Sifiso Hlanti were all on the pitch at the same time.
“For a while the team picked itself because of what we had left,” said Hunt. “It’s good that we now have to pick a team again. It was the first time in 16 games that we have had our whole defence playing. That was good. Tyson (Hlatshwayo), Buhle and Allie, those guys were the bedrock of our team. Hopefully all goes well going forward.”
Hunt has lost to Celtic once already this season, and that was only the beginning of Wits’ downward spiral. What does he think of the other finalists now - coached by Serbian Veselin Jelusic - almost two months since the 1-0 defeat at the Dr Petrus Molemela Stadium?
“He seems to be detailed and articulate in his approach. The football is structured, as always. He comes from that sort of mentality. Our game has become a little unstructured because SA football is all over the show. I don’t know how he works, but there is some organisation there, you can see it.”
Hunt will be hoping Jelusic’s tactics are a little bit all over the show for him to finally get his hands on a trophy that has eluded him throughout his coaching career.