Sundowns players and coaches among frontrunners for PSL honours
The Premier Soccer League Awards take place on Sunday. Mamelodi Sundowns have nominees in both the footballer of the season and coach of the season categories. The team’s members are favourites for both prizes.
Considering their domestic dominance for yet another season, the fact that Mamelodi Sundowns players and coaches dominate the season-ending Premier Soccer League Awards is no surprise.
Two of their stars are up for the footballer of the season award. Sharpshooting striker Peter Shalulile is nominated alongside teammate Andile Jali, as well as Royal AM’s Victor Letsoalo.
Meanwhile, Masandawana’s co-coaches Manqoba Mngqithi and Rulani Mokwena are vying for the coach of the season accolade. The duo is nominated with Royal’s John Maduka and Cape Town City mentor Eric Tinkler.
Which of the nominees deserves their respective accolades the most based on their achievements this season, though?
Amongst the player of the season nominees, 2021 winner Shalulile is once again favourite. The Namibian goal poacher was front and centre of all things good for Sundowns this season — as they raced to a fifth league crown in a row, and a record twelfth league title overall.
One of the first names on the team sheet when fit, Shalulile bagged 23 league goals this season. He added five assists to that impressive goal haul.
It was the first time since former Bafana Bafana striker Siyabonga Nomvethe achieved the feat over a decade ago that a player had moved past the 20-goal mark in a Premiership campaign. The Sundowns forward missed out by three goals on usurping Zambian striker Collins Mbesuma’s longstanding record of 25 league goals in a single season.
When he was not scoring or assisting, Shalulile was running himself to the ground for the greater good of the team. With all this in mind, he is likely to retain his crown.
His teammate Jali might have something to say about that, though. The midfielder’s value can not be calculated in goals or assists — as is the case for the likes of Shalulile and Themba Zwane. However, Jali was crucial to the success that Sundowns achieved domestically this season.
His teammates in defence were grateful to him numerous times when he slotted in to cover for them when they were caught out of position. The offensive players were grateful to him on many occasions for winning the ball back at key moments and sparking counterattacks.
In spite of playing the role of a midfield henchman which fits his nickname “Gattuso” — after the confrontational Italian midfielder Gennaro Gattuso – Jali only received three yellow cards and no red cards across all competitions this season.
One minute Letsoalo and his teammates were Bloemfontein Celtic employees. The next they were in KwaZulu-Natal, now employed by Royal. This after Celtic owner Max Tshabalala had sold off the financially strapped team’s Premiership status to then GladAfrica Championship side Royal.
However, whilst many observers tipped Royal to struggle due to the suddenness of the transition — the team has sparkled in their maiden top-flight season.
Striker Letsoalo has been a vital cog in Maduka’s clockwork-like machine. The 29-year-old has netted 15 goals to date — including a brace as Royal famously walloped Kaizer Chiefs 4-1 early on in the 2021/2022 season. Only Shalulile has more league goals than Letsoalo this season.
Coach of the season — Manqoba Mngqithi and Rulani Mokwena
The Sundowns co-coaches are on the cusp of a historic domestic treble, which would be Masandawana’s second in three seasons.
Last season the duo was pipped to the coaching accolade by then AmaZulu coach Benni McCarthy after the all-time Bafana Bafana top scorer led Usuthu to second place — the team’s highest ever league finish in the PSL era.
This season, after leading Masandawana to a fifth league title in a row in their second season in charge as co-coaches, they are likely to have a better chance.
The fact they also have the MTN8 trophy in the bag, with the chance of also winning the Nedbank Cup this weekend, places them at a great advantage to secure the accolade.
The former Bafana Bafana midfielder led Cape Town City to certain qualification for only their second appearance in continental club football.
They did finish 16 points behind Sundowns. However, considering the difference in financial muscle between the two sides — the fact that the lowest City can finish is third shows the magnitude of Tinkler’s abilities and how his players received and implemented them this campaign.
As recently as April, Tinkler claimed the Premiership coach of the month award after guiding the Citizens through the month unbeaten.
Much like Letsoalo, Maduka’s life was flipped on its head when the head coach had to pack his belongings and head to KwaZulu-Natal — switching from being employed by Celtic, to being part of the Royal family.
Similarly to Letsoalo and the rest of the players which were impacted by the sale of Celtic, Maduka hit the ground running and at some point they were breathing heavily on the necks of champions Sundowns; before the latter pulled away.
A win in their final match of the season against Orlando Pirates on Friday, 27 May, will see Maduka and his men finish second and qualify for the Caf Champions League. DM