Mamelodi Sundowns have become the undisputed flag bearers of South African football – and for good reason.
In the domestic arena, Sundowns have won six consecutive DStv Premiership titles and 16 overall. Five times they finished as runners-up. In the MTN8, rebranded knockout cup tournaments and Nedbank Cup competitions, the Brazilians have won 14 titles and were runners-up 16 times.
In continental competitions, Sundowns won the CAF Champions League, CAF Super Cup and African Football League. They have played in the Champions League 16 times.
This is a staggering list of achievements. It is the result of running a club with sound governance structures in place, starting with the appointment of a sporting director, who oversees the day-to-day running of the club.
A few years ago Sundowns brought in Spaniard José Ramón Alexanko, a former Barcelona star who used to run the world-famous Barcelona Academy when Lionel Messi came through the ranks. Alexanko was also instrumental in shaping Pep Guardiola’s career when he started as the manager of the Barcelona B team.
After Alexanko’s departure, Sundowns landed the formidable figure of Flemming Berg, who has made a name for himself as an administrator, international talent scout and an expert at setting up development structures.
He has vast scouting experience in many countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. It explains why South Americans such as Marcelo Allende, Gaston Sirino, Erwin Saavedra and Lucas Ribeiro are at Sundowns. It also shows Berg’s hand in the recruitment process at the club.
It is doubtful that Sundowns coaches Rulani Mokwena and Manqoba Mngqithi would have heard about Allende or Ribeiro before. There are no other PSL clubs that have a talent scout to match the credentials of Berg, who was once the talent scout for English Premiership giants Chelsea.
These signings may have been expensive, but the players have proved their worth. Sundowns have also dipped into the local transfer market with great success as in the case of Thapelo Maseko (SuperSport United) and Peter Shalulile (Highlands Park).
Last year, Berg made an important decision to reshuffle Sundowns’ coaching set-up because he felt it was the cause of a spate of unconvincing performances. As a result, Mngqithi was no longer a co-coach and Mokwena was named sole head coach. Since then, the team has gone from strength to strength and Berg made the point that changes were in the interest of the team rather than the individual (Mokwena).
There has also been a professionalism about the way Sundowns have prepared for matches in Africa. Very often, they would send officials on a reconnaissance mission before away matches so that the team knew what to expect.
Planning is key
It also helps to ensure that all the team’s needs will be attended to on foreign soil before match day.
Often Mokwena has spoken about planning and recovery periods but has always referred to the input of the club’s medical staff. Not many head coaches have this level of technical support.
To this end, Mokwena has been impressive at pre-match media conferences as he rattles off statistics about the opposition teams. Although Mokwena has never disclosed his source of information, former coach Pitso Mosimane has spoken at length about the value of the technical staff.
As a result, Mosimane does not accept a position if his technical staff are not part of the package. Against this background, PSL clubs will study the Sundowns model well, and maybe next year the Premiership will have a new champion.