Teams beef up for final push

2011-02-05 00:00

TEKO Modise’s transfer from Orlando Pirates to Mamelodi Sundowns might have been the headline deal of the Premier Soccer League’s January transfer period, but there was plenty of other activity too as clubs jostle either to chase the title, finish in the top eight or avoid relegation.

It’s not surprising that the most transfer activity was made by the teams in the hothouse of the last two positions, Mpumalanga Black Aces and Moroka Swallows. Aces, in the last-placed position that sees a team automatically relegated, have made 10 signings. Swallows, desperate to escape the second-last spot from which sides go into a promotion-relegation playoff against the second to fourth-placed First Division sides, have bought five new players.

Three-time defending champions SuperSport United, horrified to be in 12th and with coach Gavin Hunt having complained that his side have lost too many players without replacing them, have made the second-most acquisitions (six). This included physical Botswanan central defender Mogogi Gabonamong from Santos as a replacement for Tottenham Hotspur signing Bongani Khumalo.

Probably the most astute signing, and a crucial one from a SuperSport perspective given their goalkeeping nightmares this season, has been of Rowen Fernandez from Arminia Bielefeld. Another good buy by Gavin Hunt, though on loan, is of central defender Mario Booysen, who has already picked up a few man-of-the-match awards. Ajax Cape Town have loaned the defender out for three straight seasons now, including an impressive six months at Maritzburg United last season.

Booysen came in a swap deal with Brent Carelse, who seems to have enjoyed his move back to the Cape, having, like many players who make the move from the Mother City to the big smoke, not quite cracked it in Gauteng with Mamelodi Sundowns and their Pretoria neighbours. Carelse was the only addition made by Ajax coach Foppe De Haan, who will appreciate the experience the playmaker will bring to his young, title-chasing squad.

With a mother of all battles shaping at the top of the table between leaders Pirates and chasers Kaizer Chiefs, Sundowns and Ajax, all of whom have been on form, the top four have all opted not to tamper with wining combinations.

Chiefs have made just two signings. Lucky Baloyi comes from Soweto Panthers in the amateur ranks, while one-time Ajax prodigy Stanton Lewis, whose career has been hit by injuries at the Cape team and their Dutch partners in Amsterdam before that, could still have much to offer at Amakhosi at just 24. Pirates have only brought in SA under-23 international Bongani Ndulula from Bloemfontein Celtic, while releasing the troublesome Modise.

Sundowns are hoping the one-time golden boy of South African football can rediscover his touch with his move north of Centurion, with 21-year-old midfielder Themba Zwane from the Vodacom League the Brazillians’ only other new acquisition.

Patrice Motsepe’s billionaire team have sensibly off-loaded much of their dead weight, and struggling Swallows have been happy to pick up the scraps.

There are some decent tidbits in amongst those, though, and Gordon Igesund’s shopping list has seen the experienced coach swoop for firepower to help bring some bite to a previously toothless Birds. Whether this will be too little too late in the relegation scrap remains to be seen.

Right wing Koketso Mmotong, in particular, has had a bright start, scoring a brace as the Birds recorded a second straight victory (3-1) over Aces. This followed a defeat of Wits University that had been Swallows’ first win of the season after 13 matches. Defenders James Mayinga and Vuyo Mere have been brought in to shore up a leaky defence, while a fourth player from Sundowns, left wing Tshepo Ramokala, brings more to the attack to take some pressure off veteran Siyabonga Nomvethe.

Swallows have signed players who still have a hunger to prove something in their careers. The Birds still have plenty to do if they are to avoid relegation or the play-offs, but will now feel they have a fighting chance.

Last-placed Aces, on the other hand, appear to have problems. Apart from having only a disastrous eight points with 12 games to go, Mpumalanga’s 10 new signings are a mixed bag of big names and rejects. Aces have bought some players who might contribute to their desperate effort, while others just don’t appear to have the hunger in their careers to face a gritty relegation struggle.

Forwards Joseph Makhanya and Dennis Masina from Pirates are players who still might have something to prove, as could striker Manqoba Ngwenya from Sundowns. But their must be question marks over overweight Benedict Vilakazi and David Mathebula and ageing Fabian McCarthy and James Madidilane.

At the start of the season Aces made 17 signings without much thought towards quality or buying for positions. Last month they put 15 on transfer and brought in 10 new players. Paul Dolezar is their third coach of the season. This approach of selling what’s not working and then buying whatever else is available seems a recipe for disaster.

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