Sundowns title favourites amid uncertainty over coach Mosimane
Pitso Mosimane says his expensively assembled mix of South African, African and South American stars is not ready for the season opener against Pretoria neighbours SuperSport United.
JOHANNESBURG - The 2019/2020 South African Premiership season kicks off Saturday with Mamelodi Sundowns favourites to complete a hat-trick despite uncertainty over the future of multiple title-winning coach Pitso Mosimane.
He is reportedly upset that the 2016 CAF Champions League trophy-holders want to hire an unnamed Spanish technical director, threatening the independence of the four-time Premiership-winning coach.
Media speculation includes Mosimane eyeing a return to the national coach position should England-born Stuart Baxter resign this week amid sustained media and public criticism of him.
Baxter will hold a press conference Friday and many pundits believe he will quit a job worth R490,000 ($34,500/31,000 euros) a month, according to a leading weekly newspaper.
Mosimane says his expensively assembled mix of South African, African and South American stars is not ready for the season opener against Pretoria neighbours SuperSport United.
"I do not like this match because it comes at a wrong time for us - we are not ready," said the 55-year-old coach and former South Africa forward.
"When we played SuperSport last year it was just after returning from a Champions League match in Egypt and we lost 2-0," he recalled.
Sundowns battled to score regularly at home and in Africa last season having lost Percy Tau and Keagan Dolly to European clubs and Khama Billiat to domestic rivals Kaizer Chiefs.
New Zealand forward Jeremy Brockie was signed last year to replicate his consistent scoring form at SuperSport, but flopped and often fails to make the 18-player matchday squad.
Mosimane has turned to South America for a solution, hiring Uruguayan Mauricio Affonso from Peruvian club Alianza Lima.
Affonso had an eight goals-three assists record with Alianza last season and these are figures the coach will hope to increase in the Premiership.
Sundowns signed Uruguayan midfielder Gaston Sirino from Bolivian outfit Bolivar last year and he quickly became one the outstanding players at the Pretoria club.
A challenge for Mosimane is that some of his stalwarts are aging with centre-back Wayne Arendse and national team midfielder Hlompho Kekana both 34.
Orlando Pirates, the only other South African club to be crowned African champions, finished runners-up to Sundowns in the last two seasons and are considered the biggest threat again.
The Soweto Buccaneers have gone five seasons without a trophy and the pressure is on Serbian coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic to deliver silverware during his third season at the helm.
Pirates went on a close-season spending spree with former French youth international goalkeeper Joris Delle and Zambian forward Austin Muwowo among those hired.
Sredojevic has kept his thoughts largely to himself, but must realise that a third trophy-less season would almost certainly mark the end of his second spell at the club.
Pirates and fellow Soweto side Chiefs are the most popular clubs in South Africa with a pre-season friendly between them last weekend drawing an 80,000 crowd.
Chiefs have been almost as unsuccessful as their greatest rivals, going four seasons without lifting any of the four league and cup trophies on offer in each campaign.
German coach Ernst Middendorp, who replaced Italian Giovanni Solinas midway through last season, is demanding more aggression from a squad including a number of newcomers.
"We need an aggressive mentality. The showboating football of 15 years ago is not how the game is played anymore. Some signings feel they are in paradise and forget about hard work."
Forwards Lazarous Kambole from Zambia and Samir Nurkovic from Serbia and midfielders James Kotei from Ghana and Kearyn Baccus are among the new faces.
Johannesburg club Bidvest Wits have been champions once and top-three finishers four times in the past six seasons and coach Gavin Hunt has won four league titles, three of them at SuperSport.