CAPE TOWN – There’s a popular aphorism that reads: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Bidvest Wits were crowned PSL champions in May 2017, but then slumped to a disappointing 13th position last season.
In essence, while coach Gavin Hunt had initially steered the Clever Boys on to the right track, they had subsequently failed to move forward: they sat there and nearly got run over.
So, as a football coach, what do you do the following season? Well, it’s simple: things have to change - and drastically too.
Hunt would have gathered his technical staff around him in a think-tank and tried to hammer out all the failings of last season.
They would have come up with numerous weaknesses: no calm, composed head in defence; too many ageing players; a definite lack of pace in their overall game; no creativity out wide; and, crucially, they weren’t getting goals.
Having done that, the next port of call would be to find the players to fit into Hunt’s new vision. That was done this season – and, boy, with the new PSL campaign just two weeks old, Wits have really caught the eye.
Three wins out of three, including victories over the Soweto giants Chiefs and Pirates, and the Clever Boys are setting a brutal pace at the top of the PSL standings. So let’s look at what Hunt has done and how things have changed.
The top priority was to bring in a cool-headed central defender with great touch and smooth passing ability – and Hunt found his man in Robyn Johannes. Snatched from Cape Town City, Johannes is the type of footballer a coach can build his team around.
Unflappable, he is a brilliant reader of the game and he’s a master of initiating attacking moves from his position in the centre of defence.
With the unruffled Johannes holding things together at the back, alongside pugnacious club captain Thulani Hlatshwayo, the all-round class of Buhle Mkhwanazi and the power and relentless drive of Sifiso Hlanti, Wits have a formidable defence.
It’s already clear at this early stage of the season that it’s going to be difficult to break this lot down.
While Hunt has a number of options in central midfield, like Thabang Monare, Granwald Scott and Daylon Claasen, he also needed to find an organiser, a player able to combine combat mode with intelligent movement and excellent passing skill – and, here, he got Cole Alexander.
The former Ajax Cape Town, Chippa United, Polokwane City and SuperSport United man has seamlessly come into the side – and, more importantly, his presence has allowed Monare to flourish.
Modern football is all about speed and athleticism. Watch reruns of old games and you will quickly notice the difference between football then and now. Then, it was all a bit pedestrian; now, it’s all about pace.
It’s also about youth and vigour and freshness – because there was something very stale about Wits’ participation in the last campaign.
To change this aspect of their game, Wits brought in Deon Hotto, Terrence Dzvukamanja, Gift Motupa, Mxolisi Macuphu and Haashim Domingo.
With the addition of these players, Hunt’s team has more thrust, more speed, more creativity and, crucially, more penetration.
They are able to get behind defences, while, at the same time, each of them is capable of moments of individual brilliance which can change the course of a game.
The football they play may, at times, not be everybody’s cup of tea, but Wits don’t care. Check the scoreboard, have a look at the PSL log; in the end, this sport is about three points.
But don’t be fooled that it’s boring football, it’s not: it’s called effective, no-risk football.
Let the opposition have the ball, then stay organised, stay in shape, and when they lose the ball, that’s the time when Wits are at their most dangerous, and their most exciting.
Even more, as a whole, there’s a greater cohesion, character and spirit about this Wits bunch compared to what we saw last season.
They operate as a team, they graft for each other and, it has to be said again, teams may have to steal a few cranes from building sites around the country to try to break them down.