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Mamelodi Sundowns: a well-oiled machine under the three wise men

Mamelodi Sundowns: a well-oiled machine under the three wise men
Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates with the trophy during the Absa Premiership match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Black Leopards at Dobsonville Stadium on September 05, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Samuel Shivambu/Gallo Images/BackpagePix)

Based on their current winning form, Masandawana can reach stratospheric heights this season.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Manchester City recently went on an impressive unbeaten run of 28 games, 21 of which were consecutive wins. Then came defeat to neighbours Manchester United. In South Africa, Mamelodi Sundowns are on a similar march.

The Chloorkop side have yet to lose a single match in all competitions since they lost to Bloemfontein Celtic in the opening round of the MTN8 in October 2020. Masandawana are also currently on a 10-game winning streak in all competitions.

Their incredible run sees last season’s treble winners perched at the summit of the DStv Premiership, four points clear, despite playing two games fewer than the team closest to them on the log, Lamontville Golden Arrows.

Having clocked up 17 league games so far, they remain the only unbeaten side in the Premiership.

They’ve carried this form over to the CAF Champions League, where they have already qualified for the knockout stages, with two games to spare. They are the only team in the group stages of the continental competition that still has a perfect record.

Sundowns also have a great chance to match or even surpass a record set by Kaizer Chiefs in the 2014/15 season. That season, under the tutelage of Stuart Baxter,

Amakhosi went for 19 league games without tasting defeat.

Masandawana can match that record if they avoid defeat in their next two games, and beat it if they manage to remain undefeated over their next three league games.

Amakhosi also hold the record for the least number of defeats by a Premiership team in a single season. They suffered only two defeats back in the 2004/05 season as they cruised to the league title under the guidance of the late Ted Dumitru.

Again, that will be a record that Sundowns will be eyeing. That would all but guarantee that they secure their fourth league crown on the trot. This would be another record broken by the dominant Tshwane side.

The current league winning streak is three in a row. It is jointly held by Masandawana and their neighbours, Supersport United.

Sundowns managed the feat over the last three seasons, and previously between 1997 and 2000. Supersport did it from 2007 to 2010, with current Amakhosi coach Gavin Hunt at the helm.

Murmurs of them doing what Arsenal managed as “the invincibles” when they went the whole of the 2003/2004 season undefeated, have also become louder. They have played some outstanding football in recent months, and look unbeatable.

Within the team’s camp, however, such records are the last thing on the team’s mind. They are instead choosing to focus on one game at a time. So says one of the team’s coaches, Manqoba Mngqithi.

“If you focus on all of those records and unbeaten runs you might end up losing track of what you want to achieve. If you give each match all of the attention it deserves, from the training [to] the analysis and everything else, the players will give everything because we have made them aware of what we are expecting,” said Mngqithi.

“When Sundowns have the material that we have and we are able to play so many matches without a loss, it is probably based on the quality that we have in the coaches I work with, and everybody works very hard. The players are buying into our playing concept and what we are trying to achieve with them. We are never really focused on records; we are looking at each match as it comes,” he added.

The three wise men

The form the team is in has vindicated the decision by the Sundowns hierarchy to have three senior coaches at the helm.

When the season began, Masandawana announced that following the departure of long-term serving coach Pitso Mosimane for Al Ahly in Egypt, his two assistants, Mngqithi and Rulani Mokwena, would now be carrying the torch.

The pair had each been at Sundowns for lengthy periods and were accustomed with how things operated within the club – as well as the playing philosophy which was forged under Mosimane. Still, the dynamic of two head coaches was one that raised a few eyebrows.

When it was announced that another experienced mentor, Steve Komphela, would be joining as the third coach alongside the duo, eyebrows were further raised. How could three bulls share the same kraal?

Under Mosimane’s guidance the team had been extremely successful, including going on to win their 10th league crown, which became affectionately known as “La Decima”.

Mngqithi was conscious of the weight of expectation that they faced after being elevated to the roles of head coaches, but was still confident of success.

“It won’t be an easy road, but we understand what is expected of us. Our relationships, harmony, unity and hard work will determine the destiny that we will get at the end,” Mngqithi had said following his appointment.

The coaches have done this emphatically so far this season, working in harmony and controlling the team like a trio of orchestra conductors, with the players responding by producing Ma-melodic sounds on the pitch. Their three coaches’ success to date has earned them the title of “the three wise men”.

With all the records they’ve broken and are still set to break, their work is far from done, though. They will be judged on silverware at the end of the season, and the statistics that come with the silverware will just be the cream on top.

But the cream will not matter much without the actual cake.

That is why Mngqithi, despite the team’s current run, is choosing to downplay all the persistent hype around them. He was there all those years alongside Mosimane, and is cognisant of the fact that success is measured by silverware.

In spite of this caution, going by their form of late, they can reach stratospheric heights. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


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