The aristocrats of SA football: Mamelodi Sundowns vs Kaizer Chiefs
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CAPE TOWN - BAFANA Ba Style v The Phefeni Glamour Boys: The aristocrats of South African football. The one built on the riches of the Kaizer Motaung family dynasty, while the other is all new Patrice Motsepe money.
It is a fixture that gets everyone in South Africa talking. It may not boast the legacy of the Soweto derby, but it is arguably the symbol of modern SA, trademarked by the accompanying selfies of Generation Z fans in club colours on Instagram.
A true sign of transformation is generational wealth, with both clubs now virtually entrusted in the hands of the off-spring. Bra Kaizer’s children – Bobby (football manager), Jessica (marketing director) and Kaizer Jr (sporting director) run the operations at Naturena, while mining magnate Patrice has placed his eldest son Tlhopie at the helm of Sundowns since his elevation to the Caf presidency.
It is this youthful and energising vision that is raising the respective clubs to unprecedented heights. Chiefs’ dream run to their maiden Caf Champions League final last season unlocked new markets on the continent for Jessica and Kaizer Jr to explore, bringing their goal of transforming Amakhosi into the biggest sporting brand in Africa closer to realisation.
It is Sundowns though who already have a coveted Champions League star. Africa has been conquered. It is the world they now chase.
And it is they who now set the standards with Tlhopie putting together a “dynamic collaboration” with Jay-Z owned American sports and entertainment agency Roc Nation that will focus on “brand amplification, social media strategy and execution, commercial sales and football consultation regarding transfers and the global football market”.
All these initiatives count for nothing if it’s not based on the foundation of results on the pitch though. Again, here it’s Sundowns that are the benchmark with a record 11 Premiership titles, including four in a row.
They also boast a talent-laden squad that is the envy of the chasing pack, while they have successfully completed the coaching transition from the legendary Pitso Mosimane to the unique situation of calling on a trio of footballing expertise in Manqoba Mngqithi, Rhulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela.
Chiefs, in contrast, have only just emerged from a traumatic domestic season that was ruptured with the Amakhosi faithful marching to the doors of Naturena demanding better from their team, which ultimately led to the departure of coach Gavin Hunt.
The Chiefs-Hunt relationship was doomed from the outset particularly due to the Fifa-imposed transfer ban the club was still serving during his time with Amakhosi.
It is, however, well worth remembering that despite a wretched domestic campaign, Hunt was the only local manager to beat Sundowns in the league last season when Chiefs claimed the honours with a Mosa Lebusa own goal and Dumisani Zuma winner cancelling out Gaston Sirino’s early strike for Downs.
But with the transfer ban lifted ahead of the new season, Englishman Stuart Baxter back in the coaching hotseat and bankrolled by their Champions League accomplishments, Chiefs could look forward to the 2021-22 campaign with great optimism and launched a serious attack on the transfer market.
In came Cole Alexander, Phathutshedzo Nange, Kgaogelo Sekgota, Sifiso Hlanti, Sibusiso Mabiliso, Thabani Dube, Njabulo Ngcobo, Brandon Petersen and Given Thibedi, but it was the marquee signing of Keagan Dolly from League 1 side Montpellier that genuinely signified Chiefs’ intent to topple Sundowns from their perch this season.
Dolly’s presence in the famed black and gold strip is a tantalising subplot to Sunday’s fixture at Loftus. The 28-year-old is the final part of the “CBD” trio, which includes Khama Billiat and Leonardo Castro that are all now at Chiefs after previously playing an influential role in Sundowns’ Champions League success in 2016.
Although not fully-fit upon arrival, there have already been encouraging signs that Chiefs will play to Dolly’s rhythmic tempo this season. Despite being devoid of Chiefs fans due to Covid-19 protocols, FNB Stadium has not buzzed like it did during the first half against Baroka FC prior to the international break for the longest time.
Through his movement, understanding of angles and beautifully precise passes, Dolly raised Chiefs to a level where they were playing the type of champagne football that was prominent during the days when Doctor Khumalo, Ace Khuse and the late John “Shoes” Moshoeu were pulling the strings in the heart of Amakhosi’s midfield.
The Chiefs No 10 will certainly be stronger now after the two-week international break, having had time to work on his conditioning during this period, and he will undoubtedly be eager to find his old mate Billiat and Samir Nurkovic with those defence-splitting passes.
Sundowns, in particular Mngqithi, are though well versed to the threat Dolly poses, and in true Downs fashion they will not leave any stone unturned in preparation to contain the Westbury-born magician.
But as the famous Mike Tyson quote goes, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth” and it could be Dolly and his new Chiefs teammates who will be landing the knockout blow in Tshwane on Sunday.