Stellenbosch FC will be looking to bring a fresh, almost innocent approach to the new PSL season and, although their story is not steeped in historic folklore, it is still a momentous achievement – they’re the first Cape Winelands team to ply their trade in the Absa Premiership.
The club’s chief executive Rob Benadie boasts a degree in economics, is an MBA graduate and worked at the cutting edge of strategic management for one of the world’s leading business consultancy firms – Accenture.
This business-minded leader is under no illusions about the difficult task ahead, but, as is the wont of academic strategists, he is working towards a long-term vision.
“We have obviously done some calculations of where we would like to be points-wise at each stage of the season, but our vision as a club is to build a sustainable model of football excellence for the Cape Winelands region,” he says passionately, speaking from the world-class training facilities at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport.
The club’s headquarters are a stone’s throw away from the university and, even though the club is not a varsity team, they will be looking to play some of their bigger home matches at the iconic 17 000-seater Danie Craven Stadium – a rugby venue that is held in almost reverent esteem.
“If you look at this region, it has always been a breeding ground of sporting legends, and I thought that this cannot be an exclusive domain of rugby and athletics … the area has some of the most naturally gifted sportspeople in the country and we want to harness that football potential.
“Our long-term strategy is to create an avenue for the area’s soccer players of both genders, and having a PSL status will catapult this process exponentially,” he says.
Benadie is a relative newcomer to the soccer scene, and has yet to face off against teams in the snarling, shark-like frenzy of the Premiership competition, yet his plan is bold and visionary.
His head coach, Steve Barker, is an astute, battle-hardened veteran who knows life in the trenches as well as any leader in the upper echelons of war.
“This club has a different vibe to it; it feels more like a family atmosphere, but that will count for nothing when we have to travel to Black Leopards or into the heart of Orlando,” Barker says guardedly.
“We did not expect to gain promotion when the last NFD season started and were hoping for a mid-table position,” says Benadie. “We were a newly acquired team … but then we went on a winning run and suddenly momentum pushed us to the pinnacle,” Barker says.
“We knew that the likes of Ajax had all the resources to win the league, and we were gearing towards creating a stable environment to build the club and perhaps play in the PSL a few years later.
“But we are here now, and our mission statement has obviously shifted up a few gears.”
The PSL off-season is usually unbridled bedlam, but Stellenbosch look serene – almost disbelieving – and this freshness could stand them in good stead.
“We will not be a spending club and will be looking to promote from within. Our goal is not to stay in the Premier League as such, but rather build a foundation and a brand,” he says.
Again, this will arguably work in their favour as the financial pressure of staying in the elite league is often all-consuming, and coaches have been fired quicker than you can say “Stellies, jou lekker ding”.
“We want to keep Steve for many years, and we want to build a culture like my favourite team, Arsenal, and I want him to be like Arsène Wenger,” Benadie says.
“Talking about favourite teams, my all-time favourite club was always Cape Town City, back when Jingles Pereira and Gary France were scoring left, right and centre.
“We went to every one of their home games, and the most vivid memories were the derbies against Hellenic,” he says.
“That is why I can’t wait for our second league game, when we play Cape Town City away … my heart on one side of the mountain and my soul on this side.”
Stellenbosch open their account with a home tie against Chippa United and will look to get their campaign up and running.
Then, if they can beat Benadie’s childhood fantasy side, they will get momentum, and we all know that, with momentum, anything is possible – they may even do a Leicester City.
Stranger things have happened!