The new domestic soccer season gets underway in August and the Mamelodi Sundowns dynasty lives on. Can anyone break their stranglehold on the South African domestic league title? We speak to some of the top coaches.
Mamelodi Sundowns won an unprecedented sixth South African DStv Premiership title in a row in the 2022/23 season as their dominance of the domestic league continues in relentless fashion.
It is not just the fact they have lifted the trophy, but the manner of the victories has been so emphatic that the last three seasons in particular have been a one-horse race from the off.
They finished 13 points clear in 2020/21, and 16 points in front of second place in each of the last two seasons. The remainder of the league simply could not keep up with them.
Looking to the new campaign that starts in August, the question
now is whether anyone can rise from the chasing pace and dethrone The Brazilians.
The most likely pretenders to the throne are Orlando Pirates, a giant of the local game who last lifted the league trophy in 2011/12 but went toe-to-toe with Sundowns in the second half of last season after a sticky start.
Pirates picked up 35 points in their final 15 games and Sundowns 33, as The Buccaneers’ Spanish coach José Riveiro got to grips with the DStv Premiership and the players at his disposal in his first year in charge.
If they can keep up that level through the 30 games of this coming season, they will have an excellent chance of being crowned champions.
“We have a fantastic group [of players] and resources,” Riveiro tells FORBES AFRICA.
“Emotionally, it’s been a tough fi rst season. It is not easy to do what you love in a different country. For me to be here, the learning process was dificult and things were not easy from the start.
“If we do the same things [next season], we are going to get less [success], so we have to do different things to improve.”
One factor that may hold the Pirates back in the coming campaign is that they will have the considerable distraction of the CAF Champions League.
The same is true for Sundowns, but at this stage the latter perhaps have a squad with more depth that makes them better equipped to juggle domestic and continental matters. Riveiro is confident his side can make an impact in both though.
“We are going into Africa to dream that we have the potential to go all the way. I’m a very optimistic person, so I have the intention to win it.
“We know we will fi nd dificult trips, difficult opponents and dificulties from the referees, but Mamelodi Sundowns did a fantastic job in the competition [last season] and showed that it’s possible for South African teams to compete.”
It will mean bolstering his squad, and just who they manage to sign will be key.
“There’s going to be players coming and going like every season. I hope not too many because it is important to have continuity to build on the things we have done already.”
As for who else could rival Sundowns, the pickings are slim. Kaizer Chiefs continue to falter and went backward in the last campaign, while SuperSport United overachieved but are in a constant cycle of having to sell their best players to balance the books. This transfer window looks no different.
“They’ve set the bar so high, I don’t think anybody is going to catch them in the next few years,” SuperSport United coach Gavin Hunt says, adding other teams simply cannot match Sundowns in the transfer market.
“Give us the fi ve to six players from Sundowns and we will show you where we can go,” he says ruefully. “We have a salary cap here, that is how we operate. That’s unfortunate, but we will have to find new players, try to build a team that is competitive and try to close the gap.”
Former Chiefs head coach Arthur Zwane, who has since been replaced in the hotseat by Molefi Ntseki but remains an assistant with the team, also doesn’t see Sundowns dropping their level anytime soon, so it is up to the rest of the league to find a way to close that gap.
“I think it is a challenge for everyone to take our game to another level. For us, we are a work in progress and we are getting better and better,” Zwane said. “It boils down to a lot of things: chemistry, preparation and having a long-term plan. We still have a long way to go. I wouldn’t talk about other teams because I don’t know what their plan is.
But as for us, we are on that journey of trying to revive the glory days.”
For anyone else hoping to win the DStv Premiership this coming season, the only thing that will get them over the line is consistency in performance, because relying on Sundowns to falter looks a pipe dream.