Tshwane giants Mamelodi Sundowns on the cusp of yet another Premiership title

Tshwane giants Mamelodi Sundowns on the cusp of yet another Premiership title
Mamelodi Sundowns players celebrate after winning yet another title. (Photo: Gallo Images)

Mamelodi Sundowns have almost wrapped up the DStv Premiership this season. However, the ultimate aim is the Champions League.

Bullies. Player-hoarders. Unplayable. Relentless. Ruthless. Ruining South African soccer. Efficient. Mavericks.

These are some of the phrases and words that have been used to describe Mamelodi Sundowns this season. Some are negative, but many are positive. Numerous teams in the country wish to be in the position of the Tshwane giants.

Masandawana are comfortably cruising to a sixth DStv Premiership trophy in a row and look set to dominate South Africa’s top flight for many more seasons to come – what with teams supposed to be fierce rivals, such as Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, struggling to consistently deliver positive results, never mind with the same elegance and joie de vivre as the Brazilians.

Maritzburg United coach Fadlu Davids said it best during a recent conference. “All the teams in the league, except for Sundowns, are not consistent,” stated the former Pirates mentor.

Indeed, Masandawana are a team that hardly loses. As evidence of this, they have lost just six league games, to date, since the 2020/2021 season. That’s less losses than each of the teams currently placed third and below on the log table have accrued during this season alone.

The Brazilians are a well-oiled and well-coached machine. Hence they are cruising to a 13th overall league title in the Premier Soccer League era (from 1996).


They possess the most league titles in this era, with 12, with Pirates and Chiefs tied for second with four each. SuperSport is third with three, while Bidvest Wits, Manning Rangers and Santos have one each.

This dominance has come with much as criticism as it has praise. Whether it is from opposition supporters or some former players of forgotten giants engulfed by the shadow of Sundowns’ success, such as Pirates and Chiefs.

Recently, former Bafana Bafana midfielder Jabu Mahlangu insinuated that Sundowns were laying waste to South Africa’s soccer scene and its competitiveness – mainly due to their financial resources. After all, since 2003 the team has been owned by one of the wealthiest individuals in Africa, mining magnate Patrice Motsepe.

“I can’t watch PSL games any more. The standard of the league has really dropped. Let’s be honest. What’s happening now has killed the national team. Let’s not be biased and be completely honest. Something must be done,” Mahlangu said in a viral social media video.

One of the most decorated players in the country’s soccer history, Daine Klate, who donned the colours of Soweto giants Pirates and of SuperSport – responded to Mahlangu’s postulation.

“The rest just need to catch up with Sundowns. If they don’t, then Sundowns must win every season. The work and process they followed over the years took a lot of time! So, credit for all the investing and the success is well deserved,” said Klate.

Klaite has a point. The dominance that we see from Sundowns currently was only conceived in 2012, when the club’s legendary coach Pitso Mosimane took over the reins.

Courting the best

It is true that Sundowns generally attracts the best players, simply because if they want a player badly enough, and the player also wants to join the team, they will pay what is asked of them if they feel the player is valuable enough.

The players themselves sign for the club knowing that they are not guaranteed a place in the starting lineup, but believing in their ability and the fact that they can crack the complicated code when it comes to regular game time.

Of course, they want the trophies and accolades that come with being part of the Brazilians as well. It’s a gamble worth taking if a player has ambitions of being remembered through their collection of silverware throughout their career.

The gamble doesn’t always pay off. Players such as former Chiefs midfielder George Maluleka (now at AmaZulu), Thabiso Kutumela and Gift Motupa have not managed to establish themselves after joining the team.

Some players that joined Sundowns as exciting youngsters – for example Lesedi Kapinga and Grant Margeman – failed to live up to the hype. Or they simply didn’t fit into the existing system, pushing them down the pecking order.

In sport, this is not an anomaly however. Even the teams that are in religious pursuit of Sundowns-like success have signed players that have arrived and failed to live up to expectations.  

For all the stories of such players at Sundowns, there are also success stories. With the most recent being Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Ronwen Williams. The SuperSport United youth academy product left his boyhood club for their neighbours after 12 years of service in 2022.

There were concerns that he would become just another rotation player at Chloorkop – especially with three quality goalminders already at the club. Against those odds, Williams has quickly established himself as the outright first choice in goals for the reigning South African champions, in his maiden season with them.

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“It’s been a pleasure for me to be part of such an amazing team, a massive brand on the continent. I set high standards for myself, [so] the adaptation was easy for me. It was smooth because I want to be better. I want to be challenging myself,” Williams has previously told journalists of his seamless transition.

“I’ve got so many abilities that were hidden, coming out at such a big team. In the short space that I’ve been here, I have improved, and there is so much more to get even better. So, that motivates me.”

Therein lies another answer as to why players continuously join Masandawana (outside of personal financial implications), in spite of the stiff competition for playing places. To become better as soccer players.

Said players also know, based on evidence from the past few seasons, that Caf Champions League football is almost guaranteed at the Tshwane outfit. The last time Sundowns did not qualify for the Champions League was in the 2012/2013 season.

Conquer the continent

“Sundowns shouldn’t be judged on the PSL, to be fair. They should be judged on the Champions League… They should be in the semifinal or final every year. That’s how you should judge them, because the gap is so much bigger than everybody in South Africa.”

So said one of the most outspoken figures in the history of South African soccer, Gavin Hunt.  

The SuperSport coach is not wrong. Even Masandawana themselves would find it difficult to deny that for all their supremacy on home soil, they have failed to replicate that type of success in continental competition.

Since winning the Champions League under the guidance of Mosimane in 2016, Sundowns have only managed to reach the semifinal stage once — in the 2018/2019 season.

Despite a dominant display during the group stage last season, they didn’t live up to expectation and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Angolan side Petro Atlético.

Their pursuit of a second African title, one which may silence their detractors, continues in 2023. Whether they will be able to achieve this feat remains to be seen, with the tournament still in the group stages.

The Brazilians, buoyed by another imminent and record-extending domestic success, will be confident of pushing all the way this year. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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