Durban - An enticing Kwazulu-Natal derby takes centre stage on the weekend as Amazulu armed with a new coach look to halt a seemingly rampant Royal AM who are in pole position to secure a place in next season’s Caf Champions League.
While Usuthu have taken gradual steps backwards in terms of achieving “the next level” this season, few would have predicted the type of season Royal AM are enjoying at the moment.
A team formed a week before the resumption of league competition going into the final five games of a campaign in second position and on the verge of continental competition qualification is certainly the realm of dreams.
Royal AM owner, Shawn ‘MaMkhize’ Mkhize’s expectations have certainly been surpassed and even she could not have envisioned her side completing a league double over Soweto Giants, Kaizer Chiefs in their inaugural season.
Key to the club’s success this season has been the rapid amalgamation of two squads to form one strong unit, coach John Maduka’s utilisation of his experienced heads to form solid ground and one, Victor Letsoalo.
When MaMkhize bought the status of Bloemfontein Celtic, she would’ve been very tempted to bring in a high profile coach, possibly a veteran of the local league but the faith she showed in Maduka has been duly repaid. The Malawian international has been central in merging the two squads and as quickly as he did.
Maduka is somewhat of a South African football veteran himself having played for Bush Bucks FC and Celtics before retiring in 2009. His knowledge meant he has a good understanding of what it actually takes to garner any kind of success in the local game.
Maduka’s importance has been highlighted in his reliance on his experienced players like Hugo Nyame, Latshene Phalane along with being able to get the very best out of in form striker, Letsoalo.
On the other side of town, the Usuthu dressing room is seemingly seeing the light under interim coach Brandon Truter after an underwhelming season that led to the sacking of Benni McCarthy.
The Durban-based club are 14 points off their total from last season after 25 games and are five places lower than where they were in the previous campaign.
The club have gone about their ambitions to match Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates and Chiefs’ the wrong way and this has been exposed for the world to see.
McCarthy led the club to their highest-ever league finish with their highest-ever points tally and Champions league football in his first eight months. While many may have expected a step up with ‘next level recruitment’ and a formation of a squad worthy of competing in both local and international fronts, the club have seemed to go the totally opposite direction.
The much-publicised deterioration of McCarthy’s relationship with the club’s owner’s was significant as the former Cape Town City mentor continued to pile on the pressure on his employers after going through a spell of indifferent results.
The demand for an upgrade in depth and the drop in form from key players like Veli Mothwa, Siyethemba Sithebe and Lehlohonolo Majoro culminated into huge doubts amongst the Usuthu faithful. Whether the change in the technical team or support in the transfer market is what Amazulu needed, remains to be seen.