JOHANNESBURG - Pitso Mosimane will not change Mamelodi Sundowns’ approach in what will be a gruelling campaign that will see the top three teams in the country compete for the league and play continental football as well.
The Brazilians, who won the Absa Premiership, and runners-up Orlando Pirates will represent South Africa in next season’s Caf Champions League. Kaizer Chiefs, who finished third, will compete in the Caf Confederation Cup. Their participation in continental football will be key in the league race as next season’s continental football will be congested into six months as the Confederation of African Football is moving its calendar from February - November to August - May.
The last five months, from January-May, in the championship race will separate the boys from the men given the increased workload it will come with. Sundowns normally start slow and gain momentum as the season goes. “It’s a marathon! You can sprint first, be ahead and then someone passes you along the way. It’s a marathon,” Mosimane said.
"We know the marathon. We’ve been doing this Comrades for the last four years. Normally we don’t start very well. You’ve got to know what you want. What’s important to us is the Champions League and the league. Those are the two major trophies. But you can’t say that you don’t want the MTN8 or the Telkom Knockout, you’ve got to try.”
Mosimane continued, “Player management, squad management, game management and training management will be crucial. It’s small components that people don’t see but could destroy your season if you don’t manage them well. We’ve seen people going all the way in the Champions League and Confederation Cup and they come back home and they don’t have the legs. It’s a marathon. It needs experience and we have the experience.”
Sundowns are competing in the group stage of the Champions League for a third year in a row, the first South African team to achieve that. The Brazilians host AS Togo-Port on Friday at 9pm at Lucas Moripe Stadium looking to make up for their slow start in the competition. Mosimane’s men have collected just two points from their first two games.
What has kept them in the race is that just three points separate them from Wydad Casablanca and Horoya, who sit in first and second places respectively in Group C. So with that in mind, is it then not better for Sundowns to improve on their slow start in the league so that they have breathing space by the time fixtures start piling up - especially since they’re still in the Champions League and will return there, meaning their load is bigger?
“So what you are saying to me is that I must sprint in a marathon? And then what happens if I lose all the energy along the way and someone comes, laughs at me and then passes me? I don’t know if I want to do that,” Mosimane said. “I prefer to gain momentum with time. That’s the best thing. But it doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to challenge for anything that’s in front of you. The league is 30 games. The Champions League is a long way.”
The Togolese champions arrived in the country on Monday to familiarise themselves with the conditions for what is a must-win match for the Brazilians after their 1-0 loss in Lome last week.
“This means now we must win our home games (against AS Togo-Port on Friday and Horoya on August 28),” Mosimane said. “If you don’t win your home games, then it’s done. We are under pressure and we have to win our home games.”