Mamelodi Sundowns are still searching for a win after they were crowned DStv Premiership champions. Herman Gibbs looks at what could be the reason.
Cape Town – Rhulani Mokwena has found the thorns in his bed of roses as Mamelodi Sundowns crashed out of the Nedbank Cup at Athlone Stadium on Saturday.
The defending champions surprisingly tasted defeat in the quarter-final round at the hands of youthful Stellenbosch side who are languishing in a lowly 11th place in the league standings.
After the match, the crestfallen Mokwena stepped up for the pitch side post-match interview looking like a deer caught in the headlights. He had no answer for the team’s recent failures and resorted to his usual congratulatory comments for whatever questions were asked.
Often, he skirts around questions by repeatedly offering congratulations to his technical staff, players and whoever else comes to mind at the time.
Sundowns is a world-class club with extraordinary resources. They have a massive squad, boasting the cream of the crop in SA football. They have the best qualified technical staff that offers the team massive support on all fronts.
Sundowns won the Premiership this season in record time with seven matches still to play.
They have far and away the most clean sheets and their defensive record of conceding 10 goals after 26 matches is far and away the best in the domestic arena.
Saturday’s defeat marked the first reverse for Mokwena since he was appointed sole head coach last October.
However, of late, Sundowns have forgotten how to win. The slump started at the beginning of April with a goalless draw against 10-man Cape Town City.
Next followed a goalless draw against relegation-doomed Swallows and for the second time in a few days, Mokwena lauded his team’s ability to keep consecutive clean sheets but after 25 games, Swallows have conceded 29 goals and the star-studded Sundowns failed to add to that figure.
Three days later, Sundowns scored a come-from-behind 1-1 draw against Golden Arrows. This match was their third Premiership clash in nine days. This Wednesday fixture was followed by Saturday’s Nedbank Cup game against Stellenbosch and, apart from losing they fail to score again after Stellenbosch netted a freak own goal.
After Saturday’s match, Mokwena offered many plausible reasons for the team’s slump. The frequency of games and the travelling into Africa are situations that Sundowns have dealt with for years. Sundowns have gone to great lengths to ensure that the teams have well-planned trips into Africa.
The only difference now is that Sundowns have Mokwena having these experiences for the first time as a head coach. He has spoken about the wonderful input he receives from the technical staff and how important this information has been when deciding on the game plan.
There is a sense that local coaches have worked out Sundowns’ tactics and come up with strategies that work well against them. Earlier this year the then Chippa United head coach Morgan Mammila told the media: “Sundowns is the simplest team to play against, very simple. Even a DStv Diski Challenge player will tell you how Sundowns play. Very easy team to play against.”
After Sundowns’ mini-slump, there may be some truth in the words of maverick Mammila.
For now, Mokwena will welcome the break from domestic competition as Sundowns shift their focus to the CAF Champions League. They face CR Belouizdad in Algeria in the quarter-final first-leg clash on Saturday.