Once again, for the second season in a row, PSL football lovers will get their money’s worth when the final round of the 2011/2012 ABSA Premiership season kicks off this weekend.
But unlike the last campaign, this year it’s a two horse-race. Champions Orlando Pirates and their Soweto neighbours Moroka Swallows are both in the running for top honours, with the Buccaneers enjoying a two-point advantage at the summit. Besides both being from Soweto, the teams are like chalk and cheese.
Last season Pirates broke a decade-long drought and won not only the league title, but the treble, beating Swallows on their way to one of those trophies. Swallows on the other hand were flying in turbulent skies, fighting relegation to the bitter, bitter end and survived. This year their fortunes have turned.
The philosophy of both coaches has been something of great interest to me.
Pirates’ interim coach Augusto Palacios is highly confident that the league trophy will go back to their once-vacant cabinet, while his Swallows counterpart Gordon Igesund is quietly confident that the Dube Birds will fly into the sunset with the cup on Saturday. Asked about preparations for their final game against Maritzburg United, Igesund said they have been doing nothing differently this week and will prepare for the clash in Maritzburg as they have done ahead of all their other matches, throughout their campaign.
In the other camp, Palacios has been, let’s say, less diplomatic. The Peruvian was close to foaming at the mouth with excitement when talking about the quality of his players. He was brimming with so much confidence this week he even talked about the unorthodox methods he used in preparing his team for the all-important weekend match against Lamontville Golden Arrows. The veteran coach preached to a room full of journalists on how he reduced his players’ contact with the soccer ball this week, replacing that activity with volleyball and swimming sessions and even contemplating taking the Buccaneers for golfing lessons to keep their minds off the game.
He believes this would ultimately increase their hunger for playing football. He surprised all when he said how the team held a training session this week with music blaring in the background, all in the name of relaxation and thirst for victory.
Both teams are on the cusp of greatness. A win against Maritzburg for Swallows – coupled with Pirates failing to pick up full points against Arrows will be enough to earn them an historic victory. Swallows will be looking to clinch a first league title since 1965 - that’s almost half a century and a drought longer than the one recently broken by Manchester City!
If Swallows do go on to lift the trophy, it will be a fifth league title for Igesund – a new record. He is currently on four titles along with Ted Dumitru. Pirates on the other hand need to restore some pride. A victory for them this weekend will hand them back-to-back trebles. The league title will also give them a second shot at putting their bloated squad to its intended use, which is to compete and shine in the African Champions League. Who can forget how they met failure in this year's first round against Angola’s Recreativo do Libolo that marred the clubs 75th anniversary.
There has been great debate among many soccer lovers, on whose philosophy will come out tops. Even those die-hard Kaizer Chiefs supporters who survived heart attacks inflicted by their side’s shocking season are taking sides and say they will celebrate should Swallows go all the way. Either way, history beckons for both sides this weekend.
The question is who is your money on? My heart says BIRDS, but my head says BUCS.