Sport

SOCCER

Mamelodi Sundowns reinforce domestic dynasty with sixth Premiership title on the trot

Mamelodi Sundowns reinforce domestic dynasty with sixth Premiership title on the trot
Haashim Domingo of Mamelodi Sundowns and Fawaaz Basadien of Stellenbosch FC during the DStv Premiership match between Stellenbosch FC and Mamelodi Sundowns at Danie Craven Stadium on 5 March 2023 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Mamelodi Sundowns have won their sixth South African Premiership trophy on the trot, in a record number of games. There are more records to break, plus the pursuit of that elusive second African crown.

Across codes, sports dynasties are a special happening. Who could forget the Liverpool teams between the 1970s and the start of the 1990s? Or Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side that dethroned the Reds and proceeded to create their own two-decadeslong dynasty.

So well-established is Bayern Munich’s monopoly of the German Bundesliga that the club recently fired manager Julian Nagelsmann, because it had only won five of its last 10 matches under the 35-year-old. Bayern have won every single domestic league crown since 2013.

Recently crowned South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns are threatening to mount a similar run. The Brazilians — who have once again been peerless this season — picked up a record-extending sixth DStv Premiership title in a row. This was despite not being in domestic action this past weekend.

Sundowns’ latest league triumph came after just 23 matches played. Another domineering success and a record for the earliest a South African top-flight side has won a league title in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) era.

They are holders of the previous record as well. They won the league after 25 matches in the 2006/2007 season. This latest league success is Masandawana’s 13th overall since the inception of the PSL in 1996.

They still have time to make more history. To date, the Tshwane giants are on 59 points. If they manage to win all seven of their remaining games, they will obliterate their record of 71 points accumulated in a single season.

They managed this feat during the 2015/2016 campaign, under the tutelage of Pitso Mosimane. Should they win every single game remaining, Masandawana will be on 80 points. They can still set a new points record with five wins (74).

Spectators during the DStv Premiership match between Stellenbosch FC and Mamelodi Sundowns at Danie Craven Stadium on 5 March 2023 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Perennial domestic dominance

Sundowns’ dominance has elicited as much criticism as praise — whether it is from opposition supporters or former players of forgotten giants engulfed by the shadow of Sundowns’ success, such as Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.

A few months back, 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.

Before that takeover, the Brazilians had only won the league three times in the PSL era. With Motsepe’s money, the Brazilians have become peerless on the domestic scene. Their only CAF Champions League crown also came during this time.

The club is a bully on the transfer market, attracting the best talent in Africa, and even other continents. This is due to the combination of the team’s financial muscle, as well as the winning culture that reigns supreme at the club.

Mamelodi Sundowns players celebrate a goal during the DStv Premiership 2022/23 match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Royal AM on 14 March 2023 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. (Photo: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix)

Trendsetters

However, Sundowns are also a well-run institution — beyond just being a soccer club. Former Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala certainly believes so.

“We can learn from their scouting system, we can learn from how they run their development structures and how they invest in development. They keep on producing players, they promote at the right time and they introduce young players gradually,” the former Bafana Bafana winger recently said, as quoted by TimesLIVE.

“They don’t just throw them into the deep end. I am not sure, but I believe that maybe young players are taken through an induction process to learn and understand the culture of the team,” Tshabalala added.

“They are made to understand what success comes with in terms of pressure and expectations, hence they don’t struggle when they are given an opportunity.” 

One such youngster is 21-year-old Cassius Mailula. The forward has blended into the Sundowns senior side like a missing puzzle piece. So far, he has netted nine league goals and provided three assists during his maiden season in the South African top flight.

This season the Limpopo-born starlet also became the youngest Sundowns player to score 10 goals in a season.

“I am so grateful for this milestone. It makes me think about everything that I have been through over the past few months. I did not expect to play regularly and score as many goals as I have in my first season with the senior team,” Mailula shared with the club’s magazine.

Champions League quest

Mailula has been impressive not just locally, but in the Champions League as well. He is Masandawana’s top goal-getter in the competition, with five goals. The attacker will look to maintain that form and help the South African heavyweights win their second African crown.

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 expectations and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Angolan side Petro Atlético, the third year in a row that this has happened. 

“We are moving into a space where we have to be fair and patient with this group. It’s a group that shows lots of promise,” said Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena after his team reached the continental competition’s knockout stages for the fifth year in a row this weekend.

“It’s a group that has to be given fair opportunities to be able to make their own mark, write their own history and create their own legacy in the club. I strongly believe that this team will eventually win the Champions League,” he continued.

“When will it happen? I can’t play God, but I know that every day we work towards this objective.” DM

 

 

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