JOHANNESBURG - The Caf Champions League is a gift and a curse for Mamelodi Sundowns. The tournament has given the Brazilians the honour of being the first South African team to compete in the Fifa Club World Cup, helped the players grow tactically and mentally and gave Sundowns the edge over their domestic rivals with how they manage their games.
The downside is that due to competing on two fronts, Sundowns have struggled to retain the Absa Premiership. In the five seasons that coach Pitso Mosimane led the Brazilians from start to finish, he guided them to league glory three times. In the other two occasions Sundowns finished second, losing the league to Kaizer Chiefs and Bidvest Wits.
“It hasn’t been easy. We are a team that comes stronger the second time around (chasing rather than being chased)," Mosimane said. "We knew where the league was. It was on the freeway (in Milpark). We went and got it. It’s back. Our challenge isn’t retaining the league. Our challenge is the Champions League. That’s what gives us problems.
"It’s not that we can’t retain the league. We also have to compete in the Champions League, which we have done for four consecutive seasons. We lost the league by three points last year. It was because of the Champions League. That’s the challenge.”
While every team is resting with the domestic season over, Sundowns are in Guinea to take on Horoya on Tuesday in their second match in the group stage. In the last three seasons Sundowns have been the last club to rest and the first to start their season due to their continental exploits. This campaign is no different as they are in the group stage of the Champions League for a third successive year, a feat no South African team had done before.
Things will be a bit different for Sundowns next season as the Champions League and the domestic league will be aligned, which means that they will be able to rest the same time as the other teams. The Tshwane side will play in the Champions League for a fifth successive season. Orlando Pirates will join them in the continent’s premier club competition while Kaizer Chiefs and Free State Stars will represent South Africa in the CAF Confederation Cup.
Mosimane is critical of rivals who don’t run the same race as Sundowns, arguing it’s easier for them to challenge the Brazilians in the domestic league as they have no continental obligations. Chiefs and Pirates’ desire to end their barren run along with juggling continental duties and looking to overthrow Sundowns at the summit will make next season an interesting one in the battle of the so-called “Big Three”.
“I hear people say that next year Orlando Pirates will be better, I agree,” Mosimane said. “They will be better. They finished with 55 points, and everyone says that they will be better. This was our worst season (and we won the league). You know when we win the league at our best we go to 60+ and 71 points.
"People say that Orlando Pirates will be stronger next year. But are we going to deteriorate? They will be stronger I agree. Add six points to what they got this season. They can get there. They are a strong team. That takes their tally to 61 points.
"But my question is, are we going to lose to AmaZulu again, Polokwane twice and lose so many games at home like we did? No guys. We have to do better. We will do better.”