Tumo Mokone

Downs need fresh blood

2007-12-14 10:11

The major talk in the local soccer scene right now is the debate over the future of Mamelodi Sundowns coach, Gordon Igusend.

To use the word debate to describe the discourse around the man is a bit diplomatic because the discussion is essentially about when will the axe fall on Igusend.

My question is: does he deserve to be axed, on the case of a five-match winless streak? Do you really fire a championship-winning coach on the basis of a dry spell, like five matches with no win? Normally the answer should be no.

But given SA football's habit of discarding of coaches when a team goes through a lean spell, Igusend should consider himself fortunate if he goes through Christmas still in charge at Sundowns.

It is very real that Sundowns are struggling right now, and it is through the great efforts of their second oldest player, Peter Ndlovu, that there is a semblance of respect around the team. It is also ironic that even the team's two keepers, Brian Baloyi and Calvin Marlin, are also in their best form, despite the negative results.

Blowing hot and cold

If it is clear that the goalkeeping department is not at fault for the poor results, who is to blame? The strikers? Well, as I have indicated, Ndlovu is doing very well but the same cannot be said about his fellow forwards, especially Lerato Chabangu.

The 22-year-old Chabangu, the youngest player in the team, is blowing hot and cold. But the national team selectors have decided he is good enough, nevertheless, by naming him in the Bafana team going to Afcon 2008 in Ghana next month.

The major rot at Sundowns is in the defence and midfield. These two areas are filled by playing personnel whose ages hover around 30 and beyond. There is a great deal of experience in players of such ages, but there is danger if such experience is not balanced with youth. If fact the lack of promotion of youth players to the senior team is the major reason why the team is battling.

In simple terms, the Sundowns team is old and tired. Last season the golden oldies gave their all, with Godfrey Sapula, 34, and Surprise Moriri, 27, competing neck-and-neck for the PSL Player of the Year award, which Sapula deservedly won at the end.

Fellow midfielders Josta Dladla, 28, Dillon Sheppard, 28, Esrom Nyandoro, 27, Elias Ngwepe, 29, and Manqoba Ngwenya, who at 26 is no spring chicken, did very well to dominate the proceedings the previous season.

But the guys are visibly tired, with Sapula and Moriri playing part time. Nyandoro is still at the top of his game, though the same cannot be said about Ngwenya, Dladla and Ngwepe. Sheppard is currently injured and will be out for a long period after he broke a leg three weeks ago.

Fresh bloody required

The defence is also in sixes and sevens, after an incredible championship-winning season in which Michael Manzini, 35, marshalled his troops excellently as captain.

However, apart from Bafana Bafana right back, Vuyo Mere, 23, the rest of Downs defence are in their 30s. Oscar Ntwagae on Wednesday demonstrated why fresh flood is urgently required with a defensive howler which allowed Ajax Cape Town to snatch a last-gasp equaliser.

If there is one blunder Igusend is guilty of, it was his failure to plan for the new season by promoting a few young players and recruiting some from other teams. It is not clear if he had submitted such recommendations to the club's board.

Sundowns however is not known to be keen on youth, which is one attitude the glamorous club must rectify as soon as possible. Lest we forget, Mere was not given a break by the club, as the Bloemfontein-born youngster made his pro debut with Hellenic five years ago.

It is not clear if the club has development structures, seeing that there are no Downs babes being promoted from there. If that is the case, then it is an indictment not only on the reputation of Sundowns but of SA soccer as whole, given the position of this club in the bigger scheme of things.

Raw talent and speed

Sundowns are not in action this weekend, and the team's management will be best advised to use the opportunity to plan for the new year, as the league season approaches the halfway mark.

At the top of the agenda must be the recruitment of players to beef up the squad. They must target younger players because raw talent and speed is what the team needs to augment the sluggish experience they have in the squad.

Igusend must be retained to spearhead the changes. He too needs fresh challenges in the team, and looking at him age further with every game Sundowns play these days is not a good sight.

He blundered by basking in his glory after winning his fourth PSL title, but it is not his fault alone that Sundowns is in such a mess. The club's board also rested on their laurels in the same period; the two tiers of management must therefore solve the club's problems together and the "Brazilians" will be flamboyant again.

  • Tumo writes exclusively for Sport24.

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