African Football League bounty bolsters Sundowns’ already seemingly unreachable dominant domestic dynasty

African Football League bounty bolsters Sundowns’ already seemingly unreachable dominant domestic dynasty
Rhulani Mokwena, Head coach of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates with Patrice Tlhopane Motsepe (Chairman of Mamelodi Sundowns) after winning the African Football League 2023 final against Waydad at Loftus Stadium, Pretoria on 12 November, 2023. (Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix)

Mamelodi Sundowns are already aeons ahead of their fellow DStv Premiership sides. The R74-million bounty bagged from winning the inaugural African Football League on Sunday is going to further widen the gap between the Tshwane side and the rest.

If South African soccer was a science fiction film, Mamelodi Sundowns would be the all-knowing time traveller who has come from the future. That’s how far ahead the Tshwane giants are of their DStv Premiership competitors.

Masandawana’s monopoly when it comes to the domestic league is evidence enough that they are years ahead of the competition. Last season they clinched a sixth Premiership crown on the spin.

Last season’s league triumph was also their 13th overall in the Premier Soccer League era (from 1996). The joint next-best sides are Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, with four Premierships apiece in the same period.

Just to emphasise the gulf between themselves and the would-be challengers to their dominant run in local soccer, the Brazilians finished a staggering 16 points ahead of second-placed Pirates last season.

In the process, they equalled their own league record for the largest points gap between first and second at the culmination of an SA top-flight campaign. They won the league by the same margin between themselves and runners-up Cape Town City in the 2021/2022 season.

Rulani Mokwena, Sundowns

Rulani Mokwena during the Mamelodi Sundowns media open day at Chloorkop on 4 October, 2023 in Midrand. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

In their own league

Sundowns are cut above the rest. Backed the billions of the Motsepe family.

Now bolstered by the R74-million bounty which they have claimed as a result of beating Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca 3-2 in the inaugural African Football League (AFL) final, Masandawana are well-placed to widen the gap even more over their challengers.

Even before this financial windfall, Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos predicted that Sundowns are going to win the league title comfortably again this season.

However, the Belgian coach also suggested that the team’s perennial dominance, while other teams remain also-rans, is not healthy for the game in the country or continent.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Wydad sink in sea of yellow as Sundowns win inaugural African Football League title

“It is not good for Sundowns [that they win the league every season]. I hope Kaizer Chiefs and Pirates will become what they were before. Before I came here, it was always a struggle between those teams to be champions,” Broos said in October.  

“But for the past two years, there is no battle anymore… In February or March, we will already know the champions again. And that is not good for African football,” the Bafana coach continued.

As evidence that Masandawana will likely cruise to another Premiership triumph this season, they are currently leading the way with eight wins from eight league matches played.

Abdelmounaim Boutouil of Mamelodi Sundowns

Abdelmounaim Boutouil of Mamelodi Sundowns challenges Ayoub El Amloud of Wydad during the 2023 African Football League final. (Photo: Aknajja/BackpagePix)

Owing to AFL duties, the Tshwane giants last played a local league game on 27 September. In spite of that, they remain perched at the summit of the log table with 24 points. Second-placed SuperSport United trail by a single point, even though they have played four more games than Sundowns. 

Naturally, money will always have an influence on a team’s success. Owing to their riches, any team that engages in a player bidding war with Masandawana is likely to come second best. This means the Tshwane giants can lure the crème-de-la-crème of the continent’s soccer talent to Chloorkop.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mamelodi Sundowns Premiership? Dominant Brazilians look set for seventh league title in a row

Their reach is not just limited to Africa though. As they have shown by scouting and recruiting South Americans such as Gastón Sirino of Uruguay, Brazilian Ribeiro Costa and Chile’s Marcello Allende.

However, Sundowns’ success is not purely based on them flinging money around and offering players irresistible contracts. Otherwise, wealthy teams such as Manchester United and Chelsea would not be struggling in the English Premier League. 

Aubrey Modiba, Sundowns

Aubrey Modiba of Mamelodi Sundowns challenges Montasser Lahtimi of Wydad during the 2023 African Football League final. (Photo: Aknajja/BackpagePix)

Distinct playing style

Since the Motsepes took over the club completely in 2004, they have moved to strengthen the playing culture that saw Sundowns nicknamed after the Brazilian men’s national team. Which is known for playing football that is extremely easy on the eye.           

Pitso Mosimane laid the foundation. His former assistant coaches Rulani Mokwena and Manqoba Mngqithi built on that solid structure as co-coaches, assisted by the experienced Steve Komphela.

Now Mokwena is leading the line as sole head coach, dating back to last season, with Mngqithi as his assistant.

However, the blueprint left by Mosimane still survives and sees the team thriving. In spite of personnel changes.

The team will now be looking to build on their history-making run in the AFL by pushing on to win the Caf Champions League. A piece of silverware that has proven to be particularly elusive since they clinched it for the first time in 2016.

Mokwena hinted that under his guidance, the team will not alter their playing style in order to win the Champions League. They will remain the Brazilians and hope it’s enough for them to do an unprecedented continental double.

“Like I always say, the game of football belongs to the players. We have been asked whether we will change our style of play. It’s very difficult because this club has a certain identity and we have to try by all means to always play well. We are not always going to win every game. Because football by nature is a low-scoring game,” he stated.

As for whether any complacency will creep in after their AFL jackpot and being a shoo-in to win the Premiership for the seventh time, Mokwena had very few words.

“Don’t worry. There will be no sense of complacency. I will not allow it,” he said. DM


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