Mamelodi Sundowns are sitting on a ticking time bomb which will blow up in their face if they don’t defuse it quickly.
That ticking time bomb is the club’s salary structure.
Patrice Motsepe’s purchase of the Brazilians saw Sundowns able to attract the best players in the country thanks to the billionaire’s chequebook.
Sundowns don’t only splash the cash to sign that talent but also spend big to keep them happy with financial incentives. That’s why coach Pitso Mosimane can boast the Tshwane giant changes players’ lives by turning them to millionaires.
That’s good because football is a short career compared to other professions. Footballers who have been playing professionally for 20 years or more count themselves lucky, which is why players need to make the most they can before age or injury force them to quit. Motsepe’s money pushed other clubs to pay their players well in a bid to fend off strong competition from Sundowns.
But that money also created a monster within the Sundowns camp. As the Brazilians brought more and more marquee signings, the salaries shot up. There was a stage when the club was reported to have been paying Elias Pelembe R400 000 a month, an allegation both the player and Sundowns dismissed. What’s certain though is the Mozambican was making big bucks.
The problem then comes when players who have been with the club for a long time feel side-lined or left behind. Former Sundowns’ captain Ramahlwe Mphahlele left the club because he felt he wasn't paid enough despite some players in the stands earning in the region of R300000, while he was allegedly 'only' on R90000. Mphahlele left to join Kaizer Chiefs for pay - which would have sounded ludicrous a couple of years back, players went to Sundowns for better pay not the other way around.
Khama Billiat’s saga is further proof of the imbalance in the Brazilians’ salary structure. Despite being the club’s ace, the Footballer of the Year two seasons ago and runner-up in CAF’s Footballer of the Year, based in Africa award this year, Billiat reportedly takes home R90000 a month. It is alleged that’s why the Zimbabwean hasn’t reached an agreement with the Brazilians on a new contract with the current one expiring at the end of the season. Billiat will not be the last player whose contract renewal at Sundowns will hit a snag because he doesn’t feel he earns enough.
Sundowns have to come up with a detailed plan to structure how much they pay players and why, so as to avoid these problems. It’s hard to counter an argument of a player who says he feels he needs to be earning X amount because player Y earns that amount more - while the disgruntled player has played more games and is contributing more to the team’s success.
It’s not exactly as if Sundowns can’t afford it. They just need to do a better job at paying across the board and reward players who have been doing well, instead of creating the big salary gap that they currently have.
The African champions have been commended by the South African Football Players Union (Safpu) for not contributing to what the Union call "slave wages". The Brazilians are one of the best clubs in the continent in terms of the starting salaries they offer. That must be applauded, especially in the midst of players reportedly earning R5000 and R7000 in top flight football.
Sundowns shouldn’t stop at having a good starting salary though, for the club’s sake. Keeping talent is as important as attracting new talent. Sundowns should keep their old players as happy as they do with their new signings and not behave like a child who’s been bought new toys, quickly forgetting about the old ones which have entertained them for a long time.
This shouldn’t be a hard thing to do for a club that already has a lot of financial incentives for their players with the policy of letting them and the technical team share the prize money of every trophy they win. They just need to take that culture further by keeping everyone financially happy, not just a few individuals.