JOHANNESBURG – Mamelodi Sundowns will begin life without Khama Billiat and Percy Tau in Lome on Tuesday, but that trip to Togo will only offer the side a glimpse and not the full picture of what’s coming.
That’s because the Brazilians could be without Toni Silva and Jose Ali Meza as they have to first register the duo in the Premier Soccer League before they can register them in the CAF Champions League. But even if they fail to register the pair in time for their clash against AS Togo-Port, there are plenty of personnel to take over the baton from Billiat and Tau.
The pair played an influential role in Sundowns winning the league last season. Billiat was directly involved in 15 of the 49 goals Sundowns scored in the Absa Premiership with eight goals and six assists while Tau was directly involved in 22 of those goals with 11 goals and 11 assists.
The pair's departure is a big loss for the club but coach Pitso Mosimane started preparing for their departure in January.
“They are two massive players who have been at the club for a long time,” Sundowns striker Jeremy Brockie said. “They have been successful on a regular basis. But we saw glimpses of Gaston (Sirino) last season. He is starting to bang goals.
Toni Silva and Ali have fitted in quite nicely. They are two great additions to the club. It’s time for the rest of us to stand up now and, in a nice way, make the club and supporters forget about Percy and Khama and be excited about what’s in front of them.”
What’s in front of Sundowns’ supporters is still a potent attack that can trouble defenders in the country and the continent. Sirino has shown that he has all the qualities to take over from Billiat to make things happen as a playmaker. The Uruguayan has slick touches and an eye for goal.
Mosimane and his assistant Manqoba Mngqithi have said that South Africa hasn’t seen the best of Sirino, arguing that the 27-year-old also scores a lot - something he didn’t do much last season as he was getting used to his new surroundings.
Silva, who can play on either wing and as a centre-forward, is another attacking threat that Sundowns can look at for goals and inspiration going forward. Mosimane has been after him for the last two years.
“It’s not easy to break into a team like Sundowns,” Silva said. “You can’t just break into the team and fire from the onset. You need time to gel. But with time I will get there. You have seen players going to Europe from Africa and they struggle to adapt to European football at first.
I haven’t played in Africa, I am coming from Europe. Let’s see how I get along. I will try my best and play the football that’s being played here.”
Aubrey Ngoma and George Lebese have been with the club longer than Silva and they now understand better what’s required from them. Katlego Otladisa brings youthful exuberance and trickery.
The Brazilians are also looking to sign Lyle Lakay from Cape Town City. Should they get him, they’ll probably convert him to a fullback to complement Tebogo Langerman at leftback. Lakay’s crosses would be ideal for Brockie who brings a different dimension to Sundowns’ attack but hasn’t clicked with the club’s style of play not utilising his strengths.
Sundowns have every reason to not have sleepless nights over the departure of Tau and Billiat. But what should worry them is their lack of pace in central defence, an aspect of their game that’s been exposed in the Champions League.