A clash away to Orlando Pirates tonight (Orlando Stadium, 8.30 kick-off) as a first step in their MTN8 title defence couldn’t have come at a better time for SuperSport United.They must convince everyone again that they remain a strong side despite nearly being relegated last season, coach Kaitano Tembo said this week.
It’s the boardroom points courtesy of the Tendai Ndoro saga that saved face, Matsatsantsa having flirted with being axed from the Premier Soccer League until the final day of the campaign.
The three points awarded to SuperSport after Ajax Cape Town were punished for the games in which Ndoro, who was ineligible to play, was featured in controversially pushed them into a top eight place.
But the reality is that their season had been awful at best.
“I think all my life as a football person, as a player I have always had to prove myself, that I am still the same player I was yesterday,” said Tembo, who retired in 2006 but has remained within the SuperSport structures ever since and was just last week given a two-year contract as head coach.
“And I think all our players have the same mentality.
“If you have nothing to play for, if the desire and hunger is no longer there, then you better hang them up(the boots).
“But the squad we have, the mentality is that we still have to prove ourselves that we are still the same team we were maybe a year or two ago.”
In that time period, SuperSport were crowned back-to-back Nedbank Cup champions and reached the final of the Caf Confederation Cup.
Rewind several years and they made history by winning the PSL title three years in a row between 2008 and 2010.
But last season they almost dropped to the second tier having capitulated midway through the campaign, sacked Eric Tinkler and installed Tembo as caretaker coach for the remaining seven matches.
They face a tough test to redeem themselves this weekend against a resurgent Pirates side that is equally looking for silverware.
The Buccaneers have themselves not lived up to expectation and are without a trophy in four years, although they finished runners-up in the Absa Premiership in May.
“It happens in football that you are not always at your best,” said Tembo.
“I remember years back (in 2002), Alex Ferguson announced his retirement, but when he finished the season without the championship he changed his mind. He wanted to prove that he was still the best. And then when he finally won the league he retired.
“That is the mentality we have. We always want to prove ourselves.”
Pirates coach Micho Sredojevic also has a huge weight of responsibility now that he was given some sort of free pass in his first season back at the club.
While missing out on all domestic competitions a year ago was ignored to give him time to rebuild, the circumstance will be completely different this time around.
“If you remember, we called last season the ‘soul-healing season’ and now that the soul has been healed we know that without food it cannot go on,” he said.
“Yes it will be tough, but from the mental, fitness, physical and tactical point of view we are looking at this tournament as a possible springboard to represent this (Pirates) badge in the best possible way.”@superjourno
Independent on Saturday