Newly-crowned kings of South African football, Bidvest Wits, finally broke their 90-year-old duck by winning the Absa Premiership title for the first time in the club’s history and what’s even more spectacular is that they didn’t even need a great amount of ambition to achieve the feat.
“What do you mean”, you ask; well, I’m talking about the ambition to be more than just South African champions but potentially also that of the African continent. And I know that those who know me well might be starting to think that these are sour grapes talking, but I would advise you who ‘knows me well’ to read further before reaching that conclusion.
So here are the facts: Current kings of Africa (lest we forget), Mamelodi Sundowns, along with Wits both qualified for this season’s CAF Champions League by virtue of finishing first and second on the Premiership log the season before last (2015-2016), and the latter, good as they were on the domestic front this past season, crashed out only in the second round. Yes, it was at the hands of Egyptian giants Al Ahly and many would have expected it to have gone that way but there was something even more striking after that.
The elimination of the ‘Clever Boys’, as they are rightfully called, if their league title master plan is anything to go by, meant that they would get dumped into the Confederation Cup, which is the second-tier of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) club competitions and thus even less attractive to try and win, where they were beaten in the first round by another Egyptian club, Smouha.
Those two losses had more than the hands of Egyptians in common, they were also both 1-0 aggregate scores – which means that Wits failed to score in the four matches that they played, home and away. For a team that had a goal difference of +26 after their win over Polokwane City, which decided their position as this season’s champions, I find that telling of a team that probably had very little interest in actually taking part in these competitions.
That their coach, Gavin Hunt, has a history of showing clear disinterest in the continental affairs with his former team SuperSport United, doesn’t do much to prove otherwise. I mean this is a guy who, unlike the Sundowns mentor Pitso Mosimane, has on a number of occasions lamented the difficult travelling to and from and the not-so-ideal hotels and playing surfaces in other African countries. In fact, so bad does he think the situation is on this continent that I once heard someone saying he even swore that Barcelona would not win the Champions League in Africa.
While he has a valid point about the difficulties of travelling such a huge continent, I feel that he and his club stuck to making excuses and focusing on the smaller prize that is the league, which is what helped them to win it this year. And it’s not a far-fetched thought that Sundowns’ failure to retain it was down to fatigue, given that they didn’t have a pre-season due to CAF commitments and had to travel all the way to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup in December while everyone else was enjoying an extended two-month break owing to the African Cup of Nations, which took place in January.
But having said that, I guess a strategy to win something is a strategy, and one has to applaud even if it’s the rivals who execute it well.
I also think it was a nice touch from the African champions to show sportsmanship in congratulating the newly-crowned South African champions.
*Picture taken from: citizen.co.za.