JOHANNESBURG – Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt insists that signing 11 new players this season was necessary to avoid what befell the Clever Boys in the previous campaign as the reigning Absa Premiership champions.
He’s been under the microscope over the last several weeks, with players coming and going at Sturrock Park.
Veteran Daine Klate, midfielder Ben Motshwari, winger Vincent Pule and striker James Keene were among key departures as Wits responded to their shock 13th-place finish during a season they were attempting to retain the championship.
“We didn’t buy anyone except Simon (Murray, from Hibernian FC in Scotland),” Hunt, speaking shortly after his side’s training session in preparation for tonight’s league fixture away to Kaizer Chiefs (7.30pm), said jokingly.
“But in all seriousness, after what happened last season, do you not think what we have done was necessary? We learnt a hard lesson.
“I remember when I had lunch a few years ago with Sir Alex Ferguson, he spoke about the need to refresh the team so that you don’t lose the hunger and desire.”
Hunt consistently maintained that the Clever Boys’ awful display in surrendering the Premiership title was down to a loss of appetite to win.
So, the 54-year-old coach reacted by bringing in Robyn Johannes, Vuyo Mere, Bantu Mzwakali, Mxolisi Macuphu, Terrence Dzvukamanja, Deon Hotto and Gift Motupa as headline signings among a whole list of others.
Hunt suggested all of them were free agents, with Murray the only one Wits paid for – and it was no surprise that nearly all of them were handed their debuts at the weekend in the club’s emphatic 3-0 victory over bogey side Free State Stars.
“What we have done this year is reduce the size of the squad by three or four. Obviously we can’t be judged on one game, but what we have done now, we should have done last season. We took too long to refresh the team and it was costly,” Hunt explained.
He exercised caution in talking up their chances in their next league fixture at FNB Stadium against Chiefs, who have not been as busy in the transfer market.
But they do have a new coach in Italian tactician Giovanni Solinas, who began his tenure at the weekend with a satisfactory 1-1 draw away to league title holders Mamelodi Sundowns.
“I don’t think they will be vulnerable at all. They have (Khama) Billiat, who is very dangerous when play breaks, and there’s a turnover of possession.
“I don’t believe in this thing that there is a right time for this and that. They will compete. They are the biggest team in South Africa,” the Wits coach warned.
“And they have players who have won trophies before, and have all that experience to help them do well.
“I also think Solinas has got better quality now at Chiefs than during his time at Free State Stars, where he didn’t do too badly with, say, limited resources.
“For us, victory was more important than how we played on Saturday night. We are missing two key players in Granwald Scott and Daylon Claasen to long-term injuries, that’s why we had Cole Alexander and Thabang Monare in midfield.
“But everyone has got to work hard.”
Given that Hunt is a horses-for-courses type of coach – and he stressed that again on Monday – Wits might make minor changes when they face Amakhosi.
“The way we play always depends on the opposition, aerial threat and all those types of things.
“We can’t say we will play the rest of the season the way we did against Stars, it depends on what the game demands,” he explained.