As the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ moves closer, South Africa's domestic competition is enjoying an unprecedented boom. A massive new TV deal last season injected much-needed cash into all of its 16 clubs and this has been followed by a host of top signings, increased spectator and sponsor interest and a rampant transfer market, where records have been shattered.
Like many other countries, the race for the title has usually been the prerogative of just three teams but last season SuperSport United won the championship for the very first time, breaking the shackles of the monopoly long enjoyed by Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates.
Supersport United won the title on the back of the fierce desire of their ambitious coach, Gavin Hunt and a hard-working ethic among their talented group of players. Yet, Hunt, whose credentials as a home-grown coach are growing by the week, admits that the integration of his close-season signings have not been as smooth as he expected. However, the return to South Africa of striker Glen Salmon after a decade of playing in Europe, coupled with the signing of Liberian international Anthony Laffor gives the side a greater impetus going forward. Such is their desire to be contenders again, the club turned down a record breaking 700,000 Euro offer for their 21-year-old centre back, Bongani Khumalo, from Greek club Panathinaikos.
Mamelodi Sundowns' owner Patrice Motsepe is making a name for himself as the Roman Abramovich of Africa. The mining magnate, among the world's wealthiest men, has a deep passion for his club and even deeper pockets. They bought 12 new players before the start of the season, smashing the domestic transfer record by signing SuperSport United pair of Katlego Mphela and Siboniso Gaxa for 500,000 Euros and giving veteran Bafana Bafana winger Sibusiso Zuma the chance to return from Bundesliga club Arminia Bielefeld. Their squad has more than 15 internationals and the real problem for coach Trott Moloto is how to deal with the players he leaves out.
Kaizer Chiefs, who have two poor seasons in succession, are banking on the signing of Venezuela's Jose Torrealba to restore their reputation and chances of title success. Orlando Pirates have handed Dutch coach Ruud Krol a three-year contract but he soon realised he has much work to do with a squad in lacking confidence. Last season's runners-up Ajax Cape Town are likely to provide the same challenge in this campaign.
Bloemfontein Celtic have brought in Mich d'Avray as their new coach, bringing home one of the most successful coaches in the South African game after almost ten years in Australia. A strict disciplinarian, D'Avray is likely to have Celtic looking organised and super fit but will battle with a lack of numbers in his playing squad.
AmaZulu, who have former Bafana Bafana mentor Clive Barker in charge, have arguably the country's most exciting forward line with Dumisani Ngwenya, Siyabonga Mkhwanazi and new signing Myron Shongwe in their ranks. Supporting them is former Bundesliga top scorer Sean Dundee, who at 35 is having a final fling in his homeland.
In addition to breaking the record transfer fee, Sundowns also spent heavily to entice Benedict Vilakazi back from Danish champions Aalborg and added Mozambique international Dario Monteiro to their ranks. Pirates bought goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs from Wits University but are currently unsure whether he will be their No1 choice for the season.
Players to watch
Reneilwe Letsholonyane has been brought in by Kaizer Chiefs to add a creative spark to their midfield and in pre-season he has already proven his worth. For champions SuperSport, another hard working midfielder, Letladi Madubanyana, is not far away from winning his first international cap, based on his performances in the league.
Have Your Say
Do you think the investment of Sundowns' owner Patrice Motsepe will bring them success this season?