OPINION: Hunt’s hands tied as Clever Boys unravel
And that is why the informed will tell you that it’s not entirely coach Gavin Hunt’s fault that he’s grown more grey hair in his last three seasons at Wits than in his first four.
Since Hunt delivered the PSL league title to the club after a 96-year wait, the Braamfontein-based side have somewhat transformed their policy of being big on investment to a selling franchise.
Yes, it was during the 2016/2017 season that the Clever Boys finally dethroned Mamelodi Sundowns as the Kings of South African football after being hot on their heels in the previous season, in which they finished as runners-up.
Granted, Sundowns were crowned the Kings of Africa at the during Wits successful title hunt but the memories of how the Clever Boys mopped the floor with Brazilians in the final of the MTN8 and took the league right under their noses must have made then 53-year-old Hunt feel like a teenager.
But it was, in fact, merely the club’s investments that had actually paid off. In his first three seasons at the club, Hunt had the luxury of getting any player that he wanted while his astute judgement to throw youngsters in the deep-end also yielded the results.
Before joining the Clever Boys, Moeneeb Josephs, Daine Klate and Sifiso Myeni had all won the coveted league title with Orlando Pirates, while Elias Pelembe and Cuthbert Malajila had recently achieved the same feat with Sundowns.
Siboniso Gaxa, who had recently joined won two league titles with Kaizer Chiefs, and Bongani Khumalo who had a number of stints in some of the best leagues in Europe, were part of the core in Hunt’s team that won three successive league titles at his former club, SuperSport United.
Given those experienced campaigners didn’t come cheap, but they worked for their money in order to win the domestic double. But kudos should also go to how unpopular faces Gabadinho Mhango, Vincent Pule, Phumlani Ntshangase, Xola Mlambo, Ben Motshwari, Thabang Monare became household names that season.
The fearless Hunt, who was also responsible for giving Bafana Bafana all-time top goalscorer Benni McCarthy his big break at 17-years-of age, was back at it, promoting Phakamani Mahlambi and Reeve Frosler from the academy ranks into top-flight football.
The experienced campaigners were expected to wilt along the way and subsequently leave the club. But how many of Hunt’s protégés and youngsters did the club hang onto in the last three seasons?
Disappointingly, it’s only Monare who’s still part of the team. Mlambo, Motshwari and Pule were part of the Pirates’ team that pushed Sundowns to the limit in the last two seasons, while Mhango, who’s currently the league’s top goalscorer, also became a Buccaneer this season.
Ntshangase is currently out on loan at Maritzburg United, while Mahlambi and Frosler are currently chasing for the league title with Sundowns and Chiefs, who are second and first on the Premiership standings respectively.
So only those uninformed can really blame Hunt that Wits have fallen from the dizzying heights of being crowned champions to finishing three positions above the automatic relegation spot the season thereafter - despite winning the Telkom Knockout.
In essence, Wits’ management tainted Hunt’s structure by becoming a selling team, a total contrast to the one that invested. Such that it was also surprising that the club had financial difficulties early season - having been forced to only sign freebies during transfer window.
Meanwhile, the club’s poor run at home in the last three seasons is another story. Last season, the Clever Boys finished third on the log standings, losing out of the title after losing their third last match of the campaign to Pirates at home, albeit holding the top spot for the better part of the season.
Unfortunately, that hoodoo has also engulfed them this term as they couldn’t capitilise on their games in hand - after playing in the Caf Confederation Cup early this season - at home.
Before the coronavirus brought the season to a complete halt, Wits were sixth on the log standings - 10 points behind leaders Chiefs, who’ve played a game extra.
But should the season get the green light and resume, it appears as though Wits will be yet again making up the numbers in the title race for a second successive season.
A scenario that would be make Hunt look older than his 55-year-old look.Independent on Saturday