Could Leeds United legend Lucas Radebe’s former club end an eight-year league title drought and knock Mamelodi’s Sundowns off their perch?

I acquired a taste for South African football during my decade long stay in Cape Town.

The outfit I superintended offered technological and editorial support to some of the football clubs in the country. It was a relationship facilitated by South Africa and Africa’s biggest sports broadcaster SuperSport, with whom our business had a working relationship. Through that synergy I gained some insights into the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL).

I found very little to choose between the two local top-flight clubs, Ajax Cape Town (Now known as Cape Town Spurs F.C.) and Santos, so I followed the game as a neutral. I have no doubt, however, that had I been based in the Gauteng province instead of the Western Cape I would have adopted Kaizer Chiefs as my club.

‘Amakhosi’ as Kaizer Chiefs are affectionately known by their fans, are the club that gave us Lucas Radebe, that Rolls-Royce of defenders nicknamed ‘The Chief.’ And by ‘us’ I mean my beloved hometown club Leeds United.

Fallen giants

Kaizer Chiefs are a club with a storied history. Apart from Radebe, they count former Manchester United goalie Gary Bailey among their former players.

Today Amakhosi are the very definition of fallen giants living on memories of past glories.

Chiefs fans though are dyed-in-the-wool black and gold; loyal, colorful and as passionate as any you will ever find anywhere where the beautiful game is played.

Sadly, the ‘Khosi family’ now falls into the category of long-suffering fans. They have not had much to shout about in recent times. Their last league title came in the 2014-15 season under the stewardship of Englishman Stuart Baxter.

The extended barren spell is not only attributable to Mamelodi Sundowns’ dominance, but also to the club’s own failure to put together a competent technical team.

Chiefs have become a revolving door for coaches in recent years. The newest recruit, Molefi Ntseki, is the eighth in as many years. That speaks to a lack of coaching stability and continuity, both prerequisites for success at any football club.

In Ntseki they trust

Ntseki, a former national team coach, is the latest to be given the coaching reins. He takes over from Arthur Zwane, on whose head the crown sat uneasily throughout the troubled campaign last term.

It was interesting to read Radebe’s views the other day about the new man the club has plumped for in a bid to turn their fortunes around. Stripped of the diplomatic language, Radebe’s view is that Ntseki is not the right fit for the job and for a club of Kaizer Chiefs’ size. He is a lightweight and no more than the club’s latest head coach experiment.

Unfortunately it’s an appointment that doesn’t inspire much confidence. It hasn’t got the fans buzzing. The hope is that Ntseki will confound his critics, cause them to eat humble pie, and repay the club hierarchy’s faith.

There was no malice in Radebe’s verdict on Ntseki’s appointment, just candour informed by the size of the challenge Chiefs face, the challenge all PSL clubs face in their bid to halt the Mamelodi Sundowns juggernaut.

Sundowns have set the bar very, very high. It will take a special effort to topple them. The best rivals can hope for is to close the gap to the behemoth.

The Masandawana juggernaut

Mamelodi Sundowns, the self-styled ‘Brazilians’, have established themselves as the undisputed dominant force in South African football in the last decade.

The ‘Brazilians’ moniker is inspired by their attractive brand of football, a more than passable imitation of the Brazil national team. They also play in the same colours as ‘The Selecao’.

Also nicknamed Masandawana, Sundowns are bankrolled by billionaire Patrice Motsepe, who is the incumbent president of the Confederation of African Football. They have won the last six Premier League titles in a row and eight of the last 10, with their streak only interrupted by Kaizer Chiefs and Bidvest Wits.

Sundowns cantered to their latest title with seven games to spare in a 30-game season. In the end the 16-point gap to second-placed Orlando Pirates flattered the chasing pack. With the title sewn up, the Brazilians took their foot off the pedal for the run-in, training their focus on the CAF Champions League. They would come short in the semi-finals, missing out on a play in the finals on the away-goals rule.

Knocking ‘Downs off their perch?

Ahead of the new Premier Soccer League season, once again the mandatory question being asked is, “Who is going to stop Sundowns?”

Kaizer Chiefs, SuperSport United, coached by the experienced Gavin Hunt, himself a former Kaizer Chiefs coach, Orlando Pirates, whose efforts tried to keep Sundowns honest in the title race last term, will all be hoping to make a real fist of the title fight in the coming season.

Rivals will be looking for chinks in the Sundowns armour.

The upcoming campaign will be Rhulani Mokwena’s first full season as substantive head coach after previously sharing the role with Manqoba Mngqithi, with Steve Khompela as first-team coach. The latter left recently to become his own man at Moroka Swallows while Mngqithi’s future remains the subject of speculation amid reports Mokwena wants to bring in his own technical team.

Could a new-look backroom team be that weakness, Masandawana’s Achilles heel?

The reality is that moneybags Sundowns effectively have right of first refusal to top talent in the transfer market. It is difficult to see where the real challenge to their dominance will come from. The club’s massive war chest makes rivals look like they are taking knives to a gun fight – to borrow that famous Clint Eastwood line.

Astute commanders win battles and wars. Clearly, Radebe has reservations about whether Ntseki is the right man to lead Amakhosi into battle.

Yet there is no doubt that despite his doubts ‘The Chief’ will be rooting for the new man at the helm, because as a fan and former player, Radebe is desperate to see Kaizer Chiefs reclaim their rightful place at the top of the South African football pyramid.


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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