ANALYSIS | Shackles are off, time for PSL stars to dazzle

Kaizer Chiefs training
Kaizer Chiefs training
  • The PSL returns with the Nedbank Cup semi-finals next weekend and Premiership clashes days after.
  • Cheering and heckling fans will be confined to their television lounges at home, baying for entertaining football to salve the Covid-19 lockdown wounds.
  • Chiefs and Sundowns are in a straight shootout for the league title, while Wits want to regain some pride after being sold like a cheap doll set during the break.

Premier Soccer League (PSL) football was probably too big to be cancelled and meant too much to too many people to simply let a season of such intrigue fade into oblivion.

And so, when PSL chair Irvin Khoza announced its imminent return, beginning with the Nedbank Cup semi-finals on 8 August, broadcasters, sponsors, players, coaches and fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.

In the last embers of the old world, the pre-Covid-19 time of uninhibited movement, fans were on the edge of their seats anticipating a straight shootout for the league between holders Mamelodi Sundowns and log leaders Kaizer Chiefs.

Amakhosi were a neck ahead of the Brazilians on 48 points to their 44 - but Pitso Mosimane's men had a game in hand and the luxury of a pressure-free chase in pursuit of the Soweto giants.

It was all building to a crescendo until the coronavirus contaminated the pleasure of live sport, globally.

Now that the domestic programme is returning, albeit without boisterous fans at the stadium, it's incumbent on the players to put on a real show.

Yes, there is much at stake. Chiefs have gone half a decade without the league championship and Orlando Pirates (eight points adrift of the leaders) would love nothing more than to upset the applecart.

Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp, lampooned as a desperate appointment two years ago, has gone some way in proving his critics wrong ... some of whom still predict his early exit from Naturena at the slightest provocation. A league title would bring silence to social media hecklers and newsroom keyboards alike.

Be that as it may, if what we've witnessed from the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A, fan-less football doesn't mean flavourless football.

In fact, it could prove the exact tonic some players need to free themselves of public pressure and perform the way they're rumoured to play in training.

Take centre forward Thamsanqa Gabuza, who careened a heroic header to win SuperSport United the MTN8 last year in the same week his son died. He benefitted from the markedly quieter move north from the Buccaneers and proved the match-winner he was designed to be.

Now that there are no heckling hooligans to hound him off the pitch, the in-camera version of the PSL restart must show us the Gabuza that made coaches, such as former Bafana Bafana mentor Shakes Mashaba, stand by him.

Fans want to see goals, technical masterclasses and the unshackled ball manipulation South Africans are known for.

Players who've often hobbled on and played through injury, such as Sundowns duo Themba Zwane (this season) and Sibusiso Vilakazi (previous seasons), had a good five months to oil their machines and get their legs moving in languid fashion again. Their socks and tails should be up.

Viewers who've had to stomach Belarusian football, reruns of past matches, 90-Day Fiancé and endless cooking programmes during lockdown, want to see Pirates attacker Gabadinho Mhango (14) make a sincere go at 20 goals this season for the golden boot.

They want the Sea Robbers to bid farewell to superfan Mandla "Mgijimi" Sindane in a way befitting "The Ghost".

Bidvest Wits, who were rag-dolled out of here, sold off to the grateful hands of Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM) FC like some cheap doll house, have something of a point to prove.

Their 99-year history, left stranded at the crease, was washed away in some manic weeks in June, but the players and their decorated coach, Gavin Hunt, who was more than a little displeased by the events, have a chance to restore what's left of the club's honour.

The Students face Sundowns (Nedbank Cup semi-finals), Chiefs (opening game of the league restart and again on 30 August) and Pirates in consecutive fixtures, in what the football gods handcrafted as a royal send-off.

It is nigh time Hunt released his players from the chains that made his team grind out results and instead to show that they are quality, entertaining and winning footballers who should not be lost to the league, no matter the uncertainty of their future.

Football lovers are owed this much.

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