A wild ride

A wild ride

The Absa Premiership continues to twist and turn its way in what promises to be one of the most thrilling seasons yet. By Marshall Gouts

If you thought last season was great (with Bidvest Wits upsetting the apple cart and winning the title, and Cape Town City emerging as a viable threat), then the current campaign is going to exceed all expectations. That’s if the early indications are anything to go by, with entertainment and shock being dished up in equal measures.

The return of Bafana Bafana all-time top scorer, Benni McCarthy – who bowed out of the local scene some years ago as a double-treble winner with Orlando Pirates – has got fans sitting on the edges of their seats. McCarthy is scheming up new ways to win games – this time as head coach of ambitious Cape Town City. He’s a troublemaker in his own right and his new club is quickly becoming the team to avoid, after winning the Telkom Knockout Cup last year and finishing runners-up in the MTN8 this year.

City and the PSL bid farewell to the 2016/17 top-scorer and Footballer of the Year, Lebogang Manyama, who sealed a R10 million move to Turkish outfit Konyaspor. Bidvest Wits star and PSL Young Player of the Season, Phakamani Mahlambi, also departed from the domestic scene, becoming the first South African to ply his trade in the Egyptian top-flight when he joined giants Al Ahly in a deal said to be worth some R30 million with add-ons.

It wasn’t only a transfers-out kind of window as Mamelodi Sundowns once again flexed their financial muscle when adding George Lebese, Oupa Manyisa and Brimah Razak (from Kaizer Chiefs, Pirates and La Liga side Cordoba respectively), before pounching on deadline day to bring Bafana Bafana defender Rivaldo Coetzee to Chloorkop. That deal sent shockwaves throughout the country as Pitso Mosimane signalled his intent to make good on the promise of reclaiming the title.

It is now commonplace to have PSL teams headlining continental competitions, but there will be no repeat of Masandawana’s heroics after they were dumped out of the CAF Champions League by Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca. The silver lining? Sundowns will now have a clear path to domestic honours, as their star-laden side looks to blast its way back to the top.

Two teams that will be desperate to stop them – Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates – will need to significantly up their games after three years without opening their trophy cabinets. Both sides have their own well-documented struggles: Chiefs is still trophyless under Steve Komphela, in third season in charge. Neighbours Pirates are rebuilding after being condemned to their worst-ever season in the PSL era last term. The return of coach Milutin Sredojević – who had an unsuccessful stint with the club during the 2006/7 campaign – and the addition of sought-after assistant coach Rhulani Mokwena have seen the team turn the corner. After last season, things can only get better for the Buccaneers.

Champions Wits got off to the worst possible start to their title defence and find themselves at the wrong end of the table. Gavin Hunt’s side had only picked eight points from a possible 21 at the time of writing and had conceded half the number of goals (12) that they did in their championship-winning season after only eight games played. While it’s not quite panic stations yet, any more sluggish displays could yet have disastrous effects, with the board intent on further domination and not slipping down the pecking order.

Two teams that did not suffer any early season blues were minnows Baroka and Golden Arrows. In fact, it was the opposite as they punched above their weight and were the last two teams to be unbeaten in the PSL. Can PSL Coach of the Month for August and September, Clinton Larsen continue his good run of form with a thin Arrows squad? Can Kgoloko Thobejane and his Baroka outfit continue to win over the hearts of local football fans while dishing out entertaining football and claiming the scalps of giants?

The question marks continue: Can either of them continue to eke out results as the game weeks go by or will they fold and be forced to settle for a mid-table finish?

A season of shocks it has been as the lines between the giants and the so-called minnows continue to blur into one. Fans can expect a lot more fireworks as the campaign heads furiously towards its climax. Pick a winner? That’s virtually impossible at this stage of the proceedings.

Photography: backpagepix, gallo/Gettyimages

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