JOHANNESBURG – Bidvest Wits may be tipped as one of the favourites for the Premiership title this season but coach Gavin Hunt is crossing his fingers they achieve the improbable, having assembled his team on a tight budget.
Known to be one of the few teams that offers players lucrative contracts, the Clever Boys appear to have fallen on tough times, as they cannot afford quality signings. Wits bolstered their squad with 10 signings - Brandon Petersen, Siyanda Zwane, Phathu Nange, Sameehg Doutie, Prince Nxumalo, Zitha Macheke, Carl Lark, Ivan Mahangwahaya, Nigerian defender Kenneth Sebastian and Joseph Douhadji, a Togolese centre back.
However, the majority of those players were signed on pre-contracts and as free agents.
“We can’t buy anybody so we are not going to buy anybody,” said Hunt after their 1-0 loss to Baroka FC at Bidvest Stadium on Tuesday night. “What do you think (I’d do if I had the money)? I’d buy a team, wouldn’t I? I won the league by 20 points (when I had the money).
It’s the South African economy, people are losing jobs. They're cutting back everywhere, but it’s understandable. We are working in tough times and football is an industry that you’d pull back the plug in. We are okay. I don’t know the ins and outs of everything but I know that things have been cut and people have left for financial reasons.”
The 10 new players will have to work their socks off to replace some of the players that were shipped out during the transfer window. However, Hunt has already been impressed by how some of his newbies have adjusted. Macheke, Lark and Doutie have already featured for the Clever Boys.
“We’ve spent no money and we haven’t bought anybody, so it is what it is,” Hunt explained. “I’ve got to battle away. We’ve got good hard-working players (but) we are going to need hard-working players along the line.
With all due respect to the previous players, but I think we got some good players here, for free. On Tuesday, the results were not where we wanted them especially after Saturday. But I can’t fault them, they gave me all - the quality was just lacking.”
While Hunt will need a few tricks up his sleeves to turn somewhat of an “average” team into “championship material”, there are increasing rumours that some of his talismen are top priorities on rival teams' lists.
Captain Thulani Hlatshwayo is said to be wanted by Orlando Pirates, while Thabang Monare is sought after by Kaizer Chiefs. Wits have reiterated Hlatshwayo is not for sale locally, while Hunt admits that he’s given the duo “honest advice”.
“The boys are fine,” Hunt explained. “Obviously it’s disturbing when you open up a football paper, and there’s a story about one of them.
They talk to me and I talk to them. But I’ll always give them the best advice.”@Mihlalibaleka