Sunday, 31 July 2016

Backed by the Almighty, Komphela claims the early plaudits: but can the Soweto Giants catch Mamelodi Sundowns?

KOMPHELA'S FIRST TROPHY: Kaizer Chiefs celebrate on Saturday
THE gimmicky opening game of the South African season, bizarrely re-christened the Carling Champions Cup, is NOT an accurate guide to the coming PSL season. Let's get that clear from the off.

Much of Saturday's clash was a battle between LAST SEASON’S Soweto Giants. And as expected, Kaizer Chiefs, who finished fifth in the PSL earlier this year, were too good for Orlando Pirates, who finished seventh.

It was only in the second half we started to see some of the new signings but with a myriad of substitutions, not too much can be read in to the AmaKhozi’s much-celebrated 2-0 win.

But there were encouraging signs. For once, the Black Label trophy was not decided on penalties. Tower Mathoho and Itumeleng Khune, who both immediately fly out to the Rio Olympics as over-age players, showed glimpses of real class.

Molomowanadou, the Mouth of the Lion from Venda, scored at one end and saved off the line at the other while Khune, taken off with a shin injury in a friendly for the Olympic-bound Bafana Bafana against Bidvest Wits barely a week before, looked fit - even after that nasty clash with Thamsanqa Gabuza.

Zambian signing Lewis Macha came on with a plethora of new faces late in the game and peeled off to score a near-perfect header after Pirates new signing Bernard Morrison had started threatening a super-sub equaliser.

And let’s be honest: though we joke about the same two sides always getting to the final of this pre-season, vote-for-your-life friendly, it was fun and the FNB Stadium was pleasantly packed.

Thoughts now will move on to Owen da Gama’s side and their opening Olympic clash against hosts Brazil - hopefully Khune and Mathoho will be ready to play on Thursday and a friendly against the local police will be enough to prepare our boys.

The PSL doesn’t kick off until August 23 this season but we have to make some sort of judgement based purely on 90mins of pre-season frolicking.

New Pirates boss Muhsin Etrugral and his former Free State Stars assistant Bradley Carnell were eager to point out it wasn’t as bad as it looked for Pirates fans, alluding to the army of new signings still settling at the club.

They’re right of course - but will Willard Katsande in destroyer mode and Pule Ekstein showing early form, the Buccaneers were overwhelmed in midfield, and there were worrying faults in the Sea Robbers’ defensive line for the full 90 minutes.

As always, Chiefs coach Steve Komphela  was the post-match preacher telling us how the Almighty was required and how important it was to “be a team, not a collection of players we’ve picked up”.

Earlier in the week, Komphela announced he wasn’t entirely happy with his new recruits, suggesting they weren’t his choices but as the celebrations bloomed around him on Saturday evening, he said: “I'll count the number of strikers: Macha, Letlotlo, Katsvairo, Moon, Manqele, Mthembu, eh... The list is going on and on, you must choose one.”

And really, that’s the one thing we can say about the Carling Champions Cup. Neither side got close to champion status last season but if Macha, who has just one cap for Zambia, can carry on like he did on Saturday, Komphela’s greatest headache will be relieved.

Komphela said: "I'm happy for Macha, he's a strong boy. I hope whatever we are working towards, will come out the way we wish and with the Almighty behind us, I'm sure we can make these people proud."

Like every club in South Africa apart from Mamelodi Sundowns and their CBD, finding a striker who can score ten goals in a season is all that is required for the AmaKhosi. And the Buccaneers. Let’s hope Macha or Morrison can fulfil that dream.

With Masandawana through to the African Champions League semi-finals and both SuperSport United and last season's runners-up Bidvest Wits gearing up more quietly the new season will be unpredictable.

Promoted NFD champions Boroka and play-off Highlands Park have made huge numbers of signings while the re-born Cape Town City simply cannot be assessed yet. Chippa United under Dan Malesela have mopped up some quality players from Soweto, Free State Stars are recovering form the abortive Panyaza Lesufi bid.

It's impossible to tell how the PSL will shake down this season. But two things seem likely: Sundowns will be up there again and Ea Lla Koto have a lot of work to do.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

VILAKAZI GETS HIS BIG MOVE and the South African transfer window finally gets a deal worth shouting about

NOT JUST A CLEVER BOY: Sibusiso Vilakazi finally secured his big move
"Bidvest Wits FC are pleased to announce that they have reached agreement with Mamelodi Sundowns for the transfer of Sibusiso Vilakazi to Mamelodi Sundowns for an undisclosed transfer fee as well as the transfers of Cuthbert Malajila and Mogakolodi Ngele to Bidvest Wits FC."

And there it is, the announcement we've been waiting for throughout another dodgy South African transfer window, another bleak mid-winter for our game.

Amid the usual chaos of free signings and false rumours comes the three-man deal I predicted weeks ago: Sibusiso Vilakazi, for so long South Africa’s premier midfielder, has gone to champions Mamelodi Sundowns just as they approach serious heights in the Africa (though he's cup tied, and won't be part of that).

And in return, the selling club Bidvest Wits get two quality KaboYellow players: proven Zimbabwean goal-scorer Cuthbert Malajila and  Botswana’s lively Mogakolodi Ngele. Three international players, three exciting moves.

Amid the unseemly scramble for free agents and cheap discards, I was clinging to Bernard Morrison to provide the boost the PSL needs, his often delayed R3m deal from AS Vita was a shining beacon as Kaizer Chiefs, Chippa United and Baroka FC flew in flocks of freebies.

Even worse, Orlando Pirates cast a bleak shadow over the integrity of our game when they signed Justice Chabalala, Sello Japhta and Ayanda Nkosi from Free State Stars along with their assistant manager Bradley Carnell.

Pirates, run by ageless PSL chairman, Irvin Khoza, raided Bethlehem and had all three players signed up less than 24 hours after the ANC’s MEC for education in Gauteng Panyaza Lesufi had announced he was going to buy Ea Lla Koto in his frantic bid to get a team not called Moroka Swallows back in to the top flight.

History shows the move never happened. The R55m from “a consortium of fans” was pie in the sky for both Swallows and Stars. Khoza pretended he didn’t know much about the deal but French boss Denis Lavagne must now resume pre-season training without his assistant and three of his top players.

That raid by the Pirates left me all at sea, a bit like their apparently free sale to Chippa United of three top South African youngsters Menzi Masuku, Thembinkosi Lorch and Maselaelo Seanego. Absolute madness.

We had Cape Town City scrambling around for “another 10 players”, Chippa and promoted pair Baroka and Highlands Park naming whole teams of free signings and SuperSport United drafting three free Kaizer Chiefs rejects. Utter chaos, not a confirmed transfer fee in sight.

But Sunday’s transfers between the Clever Boys and Masandawana have swept away my cynicism.

While Chiefs continue their search for ANYBODY from Chicken Inn to Mozambique to replace the 20 players kicked out by Bobby Motaung after the end of last season, Pitso Mosimane and Gavin Hunt, the nation’s two top coaches, have been shrewd and worked hard for their men, like two European masters playing chess.

Vilakazi, a former PSL player of the year, has wanted a move for two years. Still just 26, the Soweto-born star has played 21 times for Bafana Bafana, scoring four. The move to Tshwane could be just the rebirth required for one of South Africa’s top talents, playing next to Keagan Dolly, Leonard Castro and Khama Billiat will bring out the best in him after two quiet seasons.

PROVEN GOAL-SCORER: Cuthbert Malajila
Alternatively Cuthbert Lifasi Malajila, 30, over-shadowed by the CBD in Pretoria, will get the opportunity to strike alongside James Keene and kick-start his goal-scoring career which featured 8 goals in 17 games for Zimbabwe.

And Botswana’s Ngele, 25, so impressive at Platinum Stars, will get a regular start under Gavin Hunt as he builds on 15 games and two goals for Botswana.

With Sundowns winning in Algeria and Egypt during the off-season, Pitso Mosimane’s men can only get stronger, while Wits, second last season, will be up there again, especially with Darren Keete now signed on a free from Belgium to fight for the goalkeeper’s jersey with the impressive Moeneeb Josephs.

There’s still plenty of time before the new season - the PSL won’t even kick off until after the Olympics, though we still await the full fixture list, a month later than normal - so Chiefs and Cape Town City could still surprise us with some quality signings.

Like crowd figures, South African transfer fees are carefully guarded secrets. It's hard to assess who has done the best business in a nation where the PSL executive are happy to sell top flight clubs for less than their annual bonus.

But from where I stand, Masandawana, the Clever Boys and SuperSport United are patiently building title-threatening squads while the others fiddle among the discards. 

And for cashless, ripped apart Free State Stars, how can anything other than relegation loom? The White Sangoma has spoken.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

LIARS AND BUYERS: South African football slides in to chaos... even if Lesufi can find R55m by Friday

WEEKS ago I said the PSL were getting in to awkward territory when they agreed to John Comitis buying Mpumalanga Black Aces while Panyaza Lesufi was publicly expressing his desire to buy a place for Moroka Swallows back in the top flight.

For the third time in a year, I produced FIFA and NSL documents showing that the “buying of promotion” was illegal in modern football, that it had been out-lawed since 2007.

But nobody listened. Comitis was allowed to demolish Aces, taking 14 of their players 1000 miles south to his new-fangled Cape Town City, while swapping coaches with Orlando Pirates.

Turk Muhsin Etrugral was grabbed by Khoza amid surprising levels of optimism from Bucca fans, Eric Tinkler was dispatched to Cape Town where, as far as I can tell, another eight players are still needed to complete a workable squad for the “boys in blue”, who plan to play their games on Friday nights in the Mother City.

All this in a tourist mecca that barely produces enough paying fans for one club, let alone a second one apparently constructed purely to under-mine Ajax Cape Town.

That was bad enough. What has happened with Free State Stars and Moroka Swallows’ powerful ANC MEC for Education Lesufi is sending South African football headlong in to chaos.

Eight days ago, after much huffing and puffing, Lesufi went on Metro FM with Robert Marawa and, though he would not say which club he had bought, the mighty Marawa assured us: “This deal is done.”

With Lesufi proclaiming The Birds were now owned by a “consortium of supporters”, we looked forward to “final authorisation” from the PSL last week with R55m promised to ease the pain of Free State Stars, who would duly buy an NFD franchise and play their way back to the top flight.

It was at that point, Orlando Pirates got involved. An agent was dispatched to Bethlehem even as Lesufi made his brave proclamations. Within 24 hours, Justice Chabalala, wanted by Kaizer Chiefs, Sello Japhta and the talented Ayanda Nkosi had all decamped for the Sea Robbers.

And Bradley Carnell, the former Bundesliga star who helped Stars sign up new French coach Denis Lavagne, suddenly found himself at a “big club” for the first time. We chatted about it, I’ve always rated Carnell... but the whole saga surprised us both.

A week later and, apart from a rabble-rousing meeting with Swallows fans on Sunday, nothing happened. No official announcement from the PSL. No word from Stars to their bemused fans, though they played in a local tournament over the weekend under Lavagne but without the trio who had left for Pirates.

And then Irvin Khoza, chairman of both Pirates and the PSL for over 20 years, called an emergency conference at the PSL to tell us NO DEAL, the money hadn’t been deposited, Lesufi has until Friday to come up with the cash or Free State Stars would be resurrected like a footballing Lazarus.

As a rambling, almost incoherent Khoza told us: "We hope that Ntate Lesufi is listening together with the people of the trust he's involved in.

"I want to appeal to MEC Lesufi that together with whoever he's involved with in the consortium to finalise this ASAP.

"If we we don't have clarity by the end of the week there will be no transaction, change of club or anything like that. There will be nothing for us to consider. Our position as the League, right now, is that we await a full report from the parties."

Khoza, who stands astride our football like a gold-toothed Robert Mugabe, rambled: "I spoke to Mr Lesufi and he apologised. I hope they will conclude it this week. Because we can't wait too long.

"We are dissappointed because they let the cat out of the bag prematurely. As it stands, no application has been made.

"If the intention of this trust is to buy the club and seek a name change, that is a matter to be dealt with when the time comes (Khoza claims the name Moroka Swallows had NEVER been mentioned).

Khoza went on to make similar contradictory, never-ending comments on Metro FM a couple of hours later, waxing lyrical about footballing traditions, and the pain caused to Free State Stars “players, officials and family”.

But of course, he was being economical with the truth. A deal HAD been done, and Khoza himself was part of that deal, as he immediately grabbed as many Stars staff as he could for free.

The only hitch? Lesufi failed to deposit the R55m, money that, for some reason, is linked to an agent called Francesco Ferreri, an Italian South African who has featured before without distinction as an agent involved at Moroka Swallows and named by sources in Zimbabwe during their recent match-fixing scandal.

I’d like to say such chaos is normal in the running of a football league, but it’s not. This goes way beyond Greek and Turkish footballing mayhem and in to the dark reaches of corruption and fraud.

Khoza knew about the Lesufi deal - the proof is in the pudding with Nkosi, Japhta, Chabalala and Carnell - and to say Panyaza’s “brand” will be ruined by non-payment is pure hypocrisy.

Lesufi has only himself to blame for the mess he now finds himself in. But if the money is paid by Friday, the YESMEN culture in our game will rescue his reputation and, as Marawa said over a week ago, Panyaza will return to being a candidate for South African President for his manic bid to rescue Moroka Swallows who, whatever happens, are scheduled to play in the third division ABC Motsepe League next season.

Khoza sits with the spoils of the deal in the Pirates training camp in Potchefstroom. Lesufi is scrabbling around for R55m (Khoza said it was “more than Comitis paid for Aces”) and Free State Stars don’t know if they’re in the PSL, the NFD or the grave yard.

These are the facts. The questions that move us beyond this chaos are these:

Will Pirates return the three Stars and their new assistant coach Carnell to Free State Stars if the deal falls through?

Can Free State Stars continue to function given the club's silence during this sordid affair? Will their tiny band of fans simply give up?

Can Khoza, 68, continue to run the PSL where he has presided for over 20 years given his bizarre outbursts which appeared to amount to threats against ANC MEC Lesufi?

Just a political thought: can Lesufi himself escape unscathed as a prominent politician given his part in all this?

And all this of course, flying in the face of FIFA’s directives. You can’t buy promotion, politicians can’t be involved in football, players cannot be discarded or sent to another club unless they are consulted.

In proper footballing nations, teams are deducted 10 points if they go bankrupt. They are demoted, like Scottish champions Rangers, to the LAST available division.

It’s a mess. A terrible mess. Even if Lesufi gets his money by Friday and Khoza goes silent, we face a PSL season like none other. FOUR new clubs, 10 teams out of 16 who look very different to last season. And barely a transfer fee in sight. Millions paid to change clubs, not a penny spent on academies or development.

Though the PSL won’t confirm it, our national premier division suffered their lowest EVER attendances last season, dipping under 6,000. Will Cape Town City, Moroka FC, Highlands Park and Baroka stop that decline? I seriously doubt it.

We are caught up in something called the Carling Champions Cup which involves the fifth and seventh best teams in the country. Two of our Olympic squad are going to be late for Rio because of it.

And PSL sponsors ABSA? Do they get told what happens to their millions?

One final point: Is SAFA, the umbrella under which all this happens, even aware? Has Danny Jordaan, like Lesufi a prominent ANC politician, shown ANY interest?

Here's what I wrote when AmaZulu football, my favourite team, were trying to buy a place back in the PSL a year ago:

Sunday, 17 July 2016

PITSO FOR PRESIDENT! Mamelodi Sundowns do the nation proud in Egypt

PROVING A POINT: Tiyani Mabunda got the opener
PITSO FOR PRESIDENT! Can there be any other response to Mamelodi Sundowns superb win in Cairo on Sunday night?

There was a time when beating Al Ahly or Zamalek in Egypt was unthinkable. Orlando Pirates went some way to disproving that theory in 2013, but Masandawana finally destroyed the myth with a 2-1 win at the PetroSport Stadium.

Tiyani Mabunda, the man who had his superb debut goal taken away when Algeria’s ES Setif were disqualified after crowd trouble in the opening game, got Sundowns underway with a cool follow-up after Khama Billiat hit the post in the first half.

A rusty Dennis Onyango, Uganda’s Player of the Year and the PSL’s Goalkeeper of the Season, then got tangled up with centre-back Thabo Nthethe, the PSL Defender of the year, allowing Mo Ibrahim a fortunate equaliser.

But in the second half, after Leonardo Castro hit the bar, Keagan Dolly produced the assist for PSL Player of the Season Billiat to thread home the winner.

OUCH: scorer Mo Ibrahim's broken ankle
The highly-rated Egyptians, unable to fill their stadium due to crowd restrictions, sang themselves to a stand-still… but the players failed to respond. Their nose for goal was about as effective as the crumbled feature on the front of their historic Sphinx after Ibrahim went off with what look like a badly broken ankle.

Ultimately, this win - following on from the home victory over Nigeria’s Enyimba - should see Pitso Mosimane’s record-breaking PSL champions through to the semi-finals of the African Champions League with two to play.

With Setif thrown out, two from three qualify - and Sundowns are simply too well equipped to fail from here.

What was it Pitso said"I always tell the boys, as long as it’s 11 against 11 on the pitch and the referee is doing his job well, then we should be able to play our normal game. What’s good is that no one is afraid of teams like Zamalek any more."

Yup, the same coach who described football in Africa as "a jungle" after the defeat against Medeama!

The prospect of a continental triumph for the first time since Orlando Pirates in 1995 is starting to dawn. Not bad for a side knocked out of the competition by AS Vita and then dumped from the secondary CAF Confederations Cup by Medeama earlier in the season.

Yes, Sundowns slipped in through the back door when Vita were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player. But to have their opening win in Algeria torn away from them by CAF makes up for that giant slice of fortune.

With Mosimane forced to bring people back from holiday - some without contracts - when the news of their reprieve broke, Sundowns have been little short of miraculous during the South African off-season.

With Enyimba to play in Nigeria and Zamalek in Tshwane, Pitso and his CBD stand on the verge of the semi-finals with Castro classy, Billiat brilliant and Dolly dominant.

15 years after their one and only appearance in the final in 2001, few would bet against them going all the way again. Pitso, who described Africa as “a jungle” and complained about the refereeing following the double failure earlier in the season, will have a very broad smile this morning.

And a final thought I've just put on twitter: Sitting here thinking DOLLY should have 20 caps, PITSO should replace and should be in the Premier League.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

BREAKING EVERY RULE IN THE BOOK: weep no tears for Free State Stars and Aces, the PSL rolls on

SALUTE! Dr Irvin Khoza, PSL chairman
for 20 years, in a military uniform for no
apparent reason 
BILL SHANKLY, the legendary Scotsman who managed Liverpool from from 1959 to 1974, once said: “Football isn’t about life and death. It’s more important than that.”

Fortunately, South Africans don’t live by that code. Money is our God.

In large swathes of Europe, Latin America or even Asia and parts of northern Africa, your football club is your identity. It’s what defines you.

On a social night out, you will wear you team colours with pride; it says something about you, offers an instant introduction. Football is your small-talk, your bed-and-breakfast… in some nations like Spain, Egypt and Scotland, it signifies your tribe, your roots, your religion.

But not in South Africa. Here we don’t have segregated crowds, we don’t divide home and away fans on the way out of the ground with mounted police… and we don’t scare visiting teams when they visit our land for continental competition.

South African football is devoid of passion, wearing a football shirt, though still common, has little to do with identity or outlook. Ultimately, nobody cares. Our national football sides under-perform, our PSL attendances are at an all time low, the president of SAFA is almost entirely absent and openly admits “football is just my hobby”.

Football is the beautiful game, the global passion. But somehow, amid the more obvious horrors of Apartheid, we failed to pick up the essence of the game here at the southern tip of Africa.

Sound harsh? This off-season we found out just how little football means to the average South African. While our cricket and rugby types tend to stick to their local province like glue, we have seen two historic soccer clubs shut down and the very idea of hard-won promotion to the top flight dealt a fatal blow.

There has been no outcry, I have yet to spot an Mpumalanga Black Aces or Free States Stars fan, let alone a protest march packed with them.

Last year, when relegated Amazulu tried to purchase financially troubled Aces for R80m, the PSL rightly denied them the chance to buy their way back. Looking at this FIFA directive distributed in 2007, it’s easy to see why:

But this bleak mid-winter, things have taken a turn for the worse. First PSL executive member John Comitis, having left Ajax Cape Town after falling out with his in-laws, was allowed to buy Aces from the Morfou brothers for a price believed to be in the region of R50m.

He kept 14 of their players, released last year’s PSL top scorer Collins Mbesuma and moved the club 1000km south and renamed them Cape Town City. They already have a kit sponsorship and will spend the next 10 months attempting to destroy the established club in the Mother City.

As I speak, Technical Director Craig Rosslee admits the club need another 10 players to start the season. And former Orlando Pirates coach Eric Tinkler, neatly swapped with Aces boss Muhsin Etrugral at Aces, is sifting his way through a legion of cut-price journeymen to fill the gaps.

Then last night we had Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi telling Metro FM: “I have saved Moroka Swallows, we are back in the PSL” while refusing to divulge the name of the selling club, the name of the resurrected team and admitting: “The real Swallows will remain in Division Three, we will tell the fans that on Sunday”.

In all my footballing life, I have rarely heard such gushing nonsense from both Lesufi, an ambitious ANC politician, nor his interviewer Robert Marawa. He was asked no searching questions, just patted on the back and told he was a hero destined for the presidency.

BUYING FAVOUR: Article 30 of the NSL's rule book
In fact, he is an elected official breaking FIFA and SAFA rules, but that's not new in this country. Like everybody else, I was sad to see Swallows, an historic Soweto club, slip in to the NFD and then the ABC Motsepe League in successive seasons. Quite where Mr Lesufi was when debt-ridden owner Leon Prins was looking for help over the last two seasons, nobody knows.

At one point, during their NFD relegation battle last season, he said: "Perhaps Swallows need to be relegated again."

On Metro on Tuesday night, we heard Lesufi admitting: “We cannot be called Moroka Swallows in the PSL, but we want to keep the team colours, the bird on the badge and we’ll play at Dobsonville” while neglecting to mention their average crowd over the past five seasons in under 400 (I’d give an exact figure but the PSL keeps these things in the file labelled TOP SECRET).

When Comitis was allowed to buy Aces, the PSL told us he wasn’t really buying promotion, he was stepping in to save a failing business. It’s a very delicate argument, easily knocked down.

But what Lesufi has done, spending an estimated R55m to buy Free State Stars’s place in the PSL, breaks every rule in the book.

As I write, Orlando Pirates - whose elderly chairman Irvin Khoza has run the PSL with an iron hand for 20 years - have already snapped up three Ea Lla Koto players for free with the official announcement of the deal still pending.

Just as with the Ertugral/Tinkler swap, Pirates appear to be the major footballing benefactors with Ayanda Nkosi, Justice Chabalala and Sello Japhta all headed for Parktown with unseemly haste. The little stars of Bethlehem are falling fast.

Free State Stars meanwhile, having announced the arrival of new French coach Denis Lavagne barely a fortnight ago, are believed to be plotting the purchase of NFD club Mthatha Bush Bucks and hope to win the NFD before anybody really notices they’re gone.

I’ve got this picture of Lavagne calling his assistant Bradley Carnell in the morning screaming: “Bradley?! I am at ze training? Where is ze club? Iz gone! Sacre bleu!”

And Moroka Swallows or whatever they’ll be called? No players, no coach, no kit… just a month before the new season. With Gordon Igesund likely to return the Dube Birds, his agent Mike Makaab will no doubt sort out a squad of talented veterans and tough journeymen to do a job.

But for Free State Strars, whose website still talks about the arrival of Lavagne and the player for pre-season not to mention the local Mayoral Cup, there is nothing.

The side finishing 12th in the PSL is GONE. Aces, who finished a record fourth last season? Gone. And Cape Town City will apparently take their place in the lucrative MTN8 pre-season tournament, which must be galling for those who finished below them.

With Highlands Park and Baroka FC promoted, the PSL fixture list will take on a bizarre new look. There will be a Cape Town derby, Roger de Sa against Eric Tinkler, Comitis v Efstathiou, but that’s all Greek to me. Will the “Oldest Soweto Derby” see Moroka Vultures against Orlando Pirates? What happens if Comitis and Lesufi get relegated? Can they just pay to stay up?

The questions are endless. The PSL are talking about kicking-off the new season after the Olympics with midweek games in August. The transfer window is devoid of any real spending. Chippa United, though pleading poverty, have signed 17 new players, including three international selected Orlando Pirates youngers. Dr Khoza has allegedly handed out millions to club chairman to keep the wheels turning.

The NFD remains sponsorless, with a R400,000 prize, while the third division Motsepe League offers a million to their champions. We start the season without a SINGLE South African in the English Premier League, a first in my memory, and even China aren’t buying our locals.

But we soldier on. Lesufi’s Vultures under Igesund may surprise us, Tinkler’s City may overwhelm the odds, Baroka FC might finish above Kaizer Chiefs, who threw out 20 players and signed eight journeymen. Highlands Park v Orlando Pirates sounds like something out of the 80s.

But I've said this all before. There's just one question which needs answering: Why was Lesufi allowed to buy Free State Stars’ place in the PSL when Patrick Sokhela’s AmaZulu were denied the same right a year before? I think we should be told.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

YOU CAN'T FOOL ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME: examining the Kaizer Chiefs "shopping spree"

CHICKEN INN BARGAIN: Michelle "Mitchell" Katsvairo
YOU can fool some of the people all of the time. You can fool all of the people some of the time.

But, like Abraham Lincoln, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time.

When Steve Komphela last week claimed he searched high and low for new players to reinforce once-mighty Kaizer Chiefs, he’s not fooling around.

His reputation, his career, his future depend on inspiring the AmaKhosi to greater heights in the new season after a troubled first campaign at Naturena.

He inherited a team which had broken all sorts of records under Stuart Baxter and after a reasonable start he just could not keep the gold and black express on the rails. After beating SuperSport United on February 20 this year, they won just one game, against relegated AmaTuks, and the referee was extremely friendly that night. I was there.

Had Komphela's men, by now playing two midfielders up front, suffered that sort of form all season they would have ended up out of the top eight, looking over their shoulders at relegation.

Still, two failed cup finals and fifth place in the PSL would, by most standards, be judged “not that bad” by ordinary fans in normal leagues. But in South Africa the AmaKhosi, having won four trophies in three seasons under Stuart Baxter, were hoping for something better. Something a lot better.

Baxter told me on the day he won his second title last year: “Neal, I want to stay, but we need a major overhaul. I can name you 12 players who need to be recycled. And Bobby Motaung will not let me play a role in the changes we need to make. I can’t work like that.”

Baxter then rubbed salt in the wounds six months later when he took over from Gordon Igesund at SuperSport United, lifted the club in to the top eight and won the Nedbank Cup. You could almost feel the anger emanating from the club that has become known as the AmaDrawsi.

But I digress. A year after Baxter was replaced by Komphela, that major overhaul was carried out overnight. On May 31 this year, Motaung announced a list of 20 players who were not longer required.

Bobby, the Football Manager, claimed to have informed each player of their fate, telling them “this is the coach’s dossier on you, you are not needed at Kaizer Chiefs.” One player described his meeting with me, claiming "Bobby tried to ignore the fact I still had years left on my contract, he wanted me to leave without a word."

Remarkably, that list - longer than any I have heard of in 40 years of football reporting - was put out on the club’s official web-site. Some of the rejects claimed that was the first they had heard of it. Others felt it diminished the value of contracted players like Siboniso Gaxa and Siyanda Xulu. I believe it was simply a cost-cutting excercise, though how Chiefs with their multi-million sponsorships can be in financial trouble is beyond me.

The immediate question was: how do they replace those players? Why were the likes of Bernard Parker left untouched? How old is Ivan Bukenya? Can Bobby afford a really BIG NAME signing to thrill the worried fans?

After much speculation, last week we were assured Motaung had worked with Komphela and his agent Tim Sukazi to produce a long list of reinforcements after the apocalypse. But it didn't happen. There was no revelation, no name we hadn't heard meekly suggested in previous weeks.

And there was Komphela telling us: "We cast our eyes far and wide to ensure we brought the kind of players we believe will quickly adjust to our style of play.

"The players we have announced are very exciting. There are a number of changes in the team. We have to get the chemistry quickly so that we can get results.”

He may have fooled some of the fans. But the truth is Chiefs announced a list of just eight players, a mixture of free transfers, swaps and “undisclosed fees” from foreign clubs. 

Up front, where Camaldine Abraw - who was announced as “injured for nine months” at the press conference - scored just 4 goals, the hoped-for big-name signing of Tokelo Rantie, unwanted at Bournemouth, failed to materialise.

Instead, Lewis Macha, a one-cap Zambian playing in Mozambique, was joined by Emmanuel Letlotlo, promoted after top scoring in the Chiefs Asidlali reserves, and two Zimbabweans from Chicken Inn, Michelle Katsvairo (not Mitchell as they say up north) and Edmore Chirambadare.

Effectively, with Abraw injured, those four untested strikers - not youngsters, they’re all in their mid 20s - will have to provide Komphela with the spearhead he requires.

Edward Manqele, David Zulu, Bongani Ndulula and Siphelele Mthembu, last year’s largely untried strikers, are all on the OUT list.

Komphela, who ended last season with Siphiwe Tshabalala and Bernard Parker up front during the inglorious season-ending slump, told us: "We are happy with the quality the new attackers will add to the team in the coming season. We will get to see them during pre-season (he really did say that). We truly believe in Lewis' talent.”

And yes, among those four could be another Khama Billiat, given how little the club appears to know about their three new foreign strikers. We can only pray that dream comes true.

But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. So far, Chiefs have given their fans eight cheap replacements and nothing to shout about. They have simply saved money. The one glaring example: Sundowns captain Ramahlwe Mphahlele arrives on less than half the R5m salary Xulu commanded when he arrived free from Rostov as a Bafana Bafana regular. 

Below, I’ve given lists of the unwanted players, the new signings and the possible future arrivals, all of the players approached by Motaung in a frenzy since his money-saving release of 20 Naturena refugees. I've even given a list of the players who would command a fee and are thus, for now, not likely to arrive at penny-pinching Chiefs.

My final foolish question is simply this: who would you rather stake your reputation on? Ndulula, Manqela, Mthembu and Zulu… or Michelle, Edmore, Emma and Lewis?


Contract not renewed:
1 Morgan Gould
2 Siboniso Gaxa
3 Reneilwe Letsholonyane
4 Reyaad Pieterse

Released from contract:
5 Philani Cele
6 Ovidy Karuru
7 Levy Mokgothu
8 Simphiwe Mtsweni
9 Shandukani Mulovhedzi
10 Chris Matombo
11 Zitha Macheke

Put on transfer:
12 Siyanda Xulu
13 Bongani Ndulula
14 Edward Manqele
15 Siphelele Mthembu
16 Sula Matovu
17 Ivan Bukenya

On loan:
18 David Zulu (Chippa United)
19 Andisiwe Mtsila

Swap deal:
20 Keegan Ritchie (with SuperSport United’s Sibusiso Khumalo)


1 Keagan Buchanan, 25, Bloemfontein Celtic (free) Midfield
2 Sbu Khumalo, 26, SuperSport United (swap with Keagan Ritchie) Defender
3 Ramahlwe Mphahlele, 26, Mamelodi Sundowns (free, signed pre-contract) Defender
4 Michelle Katsairo, 26, Chicken Inn (R3m deal) Striker
5 Lewis Macha, 24, Clube FerroviƔrio de Maputo (undisclosed) Striker
6 Edmore Chirambadare, 24, Chicken Inn (R750,000 deal) Striker
7 Ennocent Mkhabula, 27, SuperSport United (released, free) Midfielder
8 Emmanuel Letlotlo, 18, Asidlali (new contract, promoted) Striker

1 Lebohang Mokoena, 29, Mamelodi Sundowns (free, released) Striker/wing
2 Kudakwashe Mahachi, 22, Golden Arrows loan/Sundowns (free) Midfielder
3 Joseph Molangoane, 28, Chippa United (free) Midfielder
4 Siphelele Ntshangase, 23, Black Leopards (injured, free) Mid/striker
5  Aviwe Nyamende, 23, Shumba Academy (new contract) Defender

1 Thamsanqa Sangweni, 27, Golden Arrows (R4m) Midfielder
2 Evans Rusike, 25, Maritzburg United (undisclosed) Striker
3 Sibusiso Vilakazi, 26, Bidvest Wits (R12m) Midfielder
4 Thapelo Morena, 22, Bloem Celtic (R6m)
5 Prince Nxumalo, Ajax Cape Town (R4m) Striker
6 Anthony Laffor, Mamelodi Sundowns (R4m) Striker
7 Charlton Mashumba, Jomo Cosmos (R3m) Striker
8 Bantu Mzwakali, 22, Ajax Cape Town (R3m) Midfielder
9 Justice Chabalala, 26, Free State Stars (R2m)