SuperSport triumph once again
SuperSport United became only the third team in 50 years of professional football in South Africa to claim a trio of successive league titles, following in the footsteps of the now-defunct Highlands Park (1964, 1965, 1966) and Mamelodi Sundowns (1998, 1999, 2000).
Despite his third championship coach Gavin Hunt, who will surely now have his sights on new challenges, may find it tough to get any meaningful employment outside of the country, even with a UEFA pro licence. Instead, the only way forward for the 45-year-old would seem to be as successor to Carlos Alberto Parreira once the World Cup is over. Hunt has been the subject of some preliminary discussions about taking over the national team but there are also other candidates with strong credentials.
The Premier Soccer League season had been condensed into six months to allow the best of the home-based players to go off in March with national coach Parreira for training camps in Brazil and Germany. This meant a hectic pace for the teams – who played two games per week – and served to really sort the men from the boys.
In the two previous campaigns, SuperSport had built enough of a lead in the table to allow a slump in their final few games and still be crowned champions and, though it was a tighter title race this time around, they were still crowned champions despite losing their last two matches.
With two rounds left they had a four-point lead over Sundowns. But when they lost their penultimate game to struggling Wits, instead of cutting the deficit to a single point, Sundowns buckled under the pressure and were beaten by bottom side Jomo Cosmos, thereby handing the championship to SuperSport.
Sundowns have spent heavily in recent seasons in an attempt re-establish their dominance of the domestic league, with the club’s owner, mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, skewing the transfer market and adding an Roman Abramovich-like touch to proceedings. But, like the Russian oligarch, he has found buying success is not as easy as when he initially entered the game.
Motsepe has contacts with Barcelona president Joan Laporta, who recommended that he hire Hristo Stoichkov as coach. The Bulgarian added charisma to the league, enhanced by his comedic limitations in English and his antics on pitchside, but he has had a checkered coaching career to date and there was little conviction that he could suddenly change Sundowns’ fortunes. By Christmas had overcome a laboured start and turned his side into credible candidates for success, but a series of draws in key games cost them.
Stoichkov has since left Sundowns, dramatically resigning on a national radio talk-in show because, he claimed, the club had not offered him a contract extension. He brazenly believed they were keen to keep him, just slovenly in negotiating a new deal, and so he played what he thought would be trump card – only to discover Sundowns were all too happy to see the back of him.
Player of the season
Morgan Gould (SuperSport United)
The defender played a key role for the champions but his hopes of playing in this summer’s World Cup have been rocked by an ankle injury.
Coach of the season
Gavin Hunt (SuperSport United)
Bigger things surely beckon for the all-conquering coach who has led his side to the last three league titles