'Downs to retain Absa Premiership title

Pitso Mosimane (Getty Images)
Pitso Mosimane (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Betting on football matches must count as one for the most folly of exercises. As a result, one of my favourite lines is that if it was easy to predict football matches' outcomes, the world would be littered with millionaires produced by football betting.

However, in a democratic country that has done away with the barbaric and dreaded death sentence, let me take the plunge and predict the upcoming season without fear of being guillotined or burnt at stake:

Mamelodi Sundowns: Champions

No clever punter would put their money against The Brazilians retaining their league title.

A combination of factors - president Patrice Motsepe’'s megabucks and coach Pitso Mosimane's astuteness in regenerating the squad and plotting the downfall of opponents included - have seen the club dominate the domestic football scene.

Despite losing two key stars in Percy Tau who swept the tables in individual accolades at the PSL Players Awards ceremony and Zimbabwean sharpshooter Khama Billiat, the club's signings so far are already an indication that they mean business.

The not only huge but vastly talented squad has ensured that the club maintains a good run in the South African championship while also seriously challenging the CAF Champions League.

The imminent season should be no different.

Add to that a well-staffed technical team, only a fool will bet against the Brazilians retaining their league title, to make it an unprecedented total of eight in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) era that started in 1996.

The only question should be, will they manage the 60 points mark they attained last season or surpass it?

Orlando Pirates: Runners-up

Only five points separated The Buccaneers from Sundowns last season.

The shrewd Serbian Milutin Sredojevic tasked with not only steadying the ship, has mentioned several times how important it is for Pirates to win titles.

Surely, coming second did not go down well with him and even worse with The Iron Duke of South African football Irvin Khoza, a known tough task master.

Khoza's pep talks to players on joining and prior to the beginning of the season are legendary. He is wont to inform them what it means to play for Pirates.

However, besides former Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo, the other eight players - maybe with the exception of Kudakwashe Mahachi who still has to prove himself and Asavela Mbekile - are quite average by Pirates' standards.

Sredojevic's passion and commitment combined with the chairperson's influence are likely not to be enough to see The Crossbones and Skull eclipse Sundowns.

Kaizer Chiefs: Top Five

It might sound rude, but the fact that Amakhosi finished third on the Absa Premiership log was by no means an indication of their brilliance.

Instead, it was a reflection on how weak the other teams in the league are.

The season that produced fewer than half the wins (12 in 30 matches), an equal number of draws and six losses, proved to be one of the worst for the Phefeni Glamour Boys that resulted in them finishing a whooping 12 points adrift of Sundowns.

What took the shine, or even the glamour away from Chiefs' name was that they - for a third season in a row - finished without a single trophy.

That Siphiwe Tshabalala at 33 years of age is still the best player and performer at the club is serious cause for concern.

They have brought Khama Billiat from Sundowns but football is a team sport and it will take more than him and Tshabalala to bring back the glory days.

Former Free State Stars Giovanni Solinas, who was announced earlier this month as the man to bring back the glory days, has his work cut out for him.

However, perusing through his CV does not convince that he can pull an Italian job.

I see them finish somewhere in the top five bracket.

Maritzburg United: Mid-table

Fadluraghman "Fadlu" Davids had a dream debut season with Maritzburg, finishing fourth.

At 37, Davids was the youngest coach in the Absa Premiership and not only did he guide Maritzburg to their best league finish but guided them to the Nedbank Cup final where they were pipped by Free State Stars.

While he came as a surprise package last season, other coaches would have figured him by now and learnt to take him seriously. So there will be no easy ride for him.

Ambition, drive and his professionalism combined with the respect he derives from his payers, should see the club finish somewhere mid-table.

Cape Town City: Third

Bennie McCarthy had a stellar season in which he handsomely paid chairperson John Comitis' confidence in him.

When he announced the signing of former Chiefs and Pirates marksman Siphelele Mthembu, I was convinced that he is one man who can bring out the best, which has been expected for quite some time.

Having cased the joint that is the Absa Premiership, I expect the coach to drive City - who are also babies in the league - further up the echelons to finish third.

Expect City to sign a few more decent players.

Free State Stars: Fourth

Retaining Belgian mentor Luc Eymael might just prove to be one of the best - if not the best - decisions that Mike Mokoena has taken in his long football career.

The controversial and maverick Eymael can be many things, but a slouch he ain't and since coming to these shores he has proved to have a razor-sharp football brain. The fact that the club has also retained the bulk of their squad, means there will be stability and fluid continuity.

Expect them to improve from their sixth to fourth position in the final 2018/19 Absa Premiership log.

SuperSport United: bottom half

SuperSport really huffed and puffed through last season. And with the news that they set to keep their current caretaker coach Kaitano Tembo, I don't see them doing any better.

At this rate, the best they can do, unless there are some dramatic changes during the season, is to avoid relegation at the end of the season.

Golden Arrows: Mid-table

Abafana Bes'thende didn't have much to offer this past season.

Clinton Larsen is quite an amiable chappie and is ably assisted by the club's long-serving and loyal servant Mandla Ncikazi but they can only do so much.

The fact that boss Mato Madlala also doubles up as the league's acting CEO - a position she was appointed to for a "short time" in November 2015 - might be contributing to her not being as hands-on as she previously was.

They are likely to be also-rans this season.

AmaZulu: Bottom Half

Having punched above their weight to finish eighth - a position they were "robbed" of by the outcome of the Ajax Cape Town saga, expect no miracles from Usuthu this time around.

They have an average squad and unless they undergo a major overhaul by signing a number of quality players they will finish in the bottom half if they don't get relegated, again.

Chippa United: Also Rans

The Chilli Boys have always flattered to deceive. Their chairperson Chippa Mpengesi's temperament that results in him firing coaches at a rate that a squeaky-clean person changes their socks does not help either.

Chippa will again finish as also rans.

Bloemfontein Celtic: Sixth

Despite his dismal failure at Chiefs, expect Steve Komphela to take Phunya Sele Sele to a decent sixth finish.

He has proved in the past to be just what the doctor ordered for the so-called small teams.

Polokwane City: relegation candidates

Replacing Bernard Molekwa who was quite familiar with the surroundings with the unproved Slovakian Jozef Vukušic was not a wise move.

His only taste of South African football was with National First Division side FC Cape Town. This might prove to be a sure bet to their Absa Premiership demise after finishing 12th last season.

Bidvest Wits: Fifth

One of South African football mysteries in this past season was how The Students moved from winning the league title to fending off relegation.

But, if there is any man who can take them out of this quagmire, it's none other than coach Gavin Hunt.

They will bounce back this season and finish a respectable fifth.

Baroka: Relegation Candidates

Unstable management and being indecisive will eventually cost Bakgaga their Absa Premiership status.

Highlands Park: Mid-table

With Owen da Gama who has proved over the years to be a good club coach, the Lions of the North will finish in a respectable mid-table position.

The club must have learnt from their last season in top-flight football and are likely not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

They will need to strengthen their squad though as the going is a bit tougher in the elite league compared with the NFD that they won on a canter.

Black Leopards: Uncertain

David Thidiela!

Those are only the two words that will determine the performance of Lidoda Duvha in the Absa Premiership.

The club boss has over the years proved to be extremely unpredictable and tends to take rushed and irrational decisions.

Whether he has matured and mellowed over the years or the time his club spent in the NFD has thawed him, will determine where they finish.

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