South Africa, the World Cup host nation, are about to bid farewell to another season of domestic football as momentum gradually gathers towards the biggest event of all in June and July.

The country’s top division, the ABSA Premier Soccer League, is in the 14th season of its existence, having been established in 1996. It is arguably the most lucrative and followed championship in the whole of southern Africa, attracting a number of quality foreign players and managers from all over the world.

While the league is contested along European lines, starting in August and concluding in May the following year, this edition has seen the season shortened, ending in March to allow the national team – the Bafana Bafana – a smooth period of preparation ahead of the summer’s World Cup finals.

Among the 16 top flight teams are those used to fighting for the title every season – and even in a World Cup year there is nothing more special than winning the domestic league. This year’s campaign was no less exciting than usual and featured a facinating climax between two Pretorian clubs, Mamelodi Sundowns and Dstv sponsored SuperSport United. In a race filled with twists and turns it was SuperSport United, coached by Gavin Hunt, who eventually managed to steal the title, successfully defending it with two games left to play.

Other teams such as Kaizer Chiefs from Soweto, Cape Town side Santos and another Johannesburg based giant in the form of Orlando Pirates, all tried in vain to compete, but found their league hopes dashed as early as January. This left the two teams from Pretoria to battle it out without much outside pressure.

The runners-up, Sundowns, are the richest club in South Africa, owned and bankrolled by mining magnate Patrice Motsepe. Their ranks are filled with top quality players who train at world class facilities under the watchful eye of former World Cup star and Bulgarian international Hristo Stoichkov. The former Barcelona man is just one of many foreigners to have managed the club over the years.

Indeed, the sky is the limit for the club known as the Brazilians of South African football. However, a slow and sluggish start to this season left Sundowns playing catch-up at the end of the campaign to the much more organised and consistent SuperSport United. The champions were good value for their third league title in a row.

Orlando Pirates and the Kaizer Chiefs, the two most famous and widely supported clubs in South Africa, steeped in history, are both based in Soweto, but have fan bases stretching across the world. Both sides’ league campaigns ended in disappointment, leaving each set of supporters moaning loudly.


Together the two produce one of the most watched derbies in southern African football, and possibly the second best on the continent – after Al Ahly and Zamalek of Egypt. Played in sold out stadiums year in year out, with fans crowding around TVs and radios, this year’s two league meetings left many with more questions than answers. Both games ended in unconvincing draws, with the usual real sparks lacking and little in the way of end product.

Orlando Pirates are currently under former Dutch international Ruud Krool – one of seven foreign managers in the league – but his expertise could only help the club finish fifth, 13 points adrift of champions SuperSport United.

Missing out on the title is disappointing for a club such as Orlando Pirates, but given the fact they have not won a single trophy in seven years, this season was a continuation of an unfolding disaster.

Rivals Kaizer Chiefs are the most successful club in South African football and enjoy a history no other team in the country can match. However, the Glamour Boys’ last league title came in 2004/05 and their form this season could only secure third place. This does give the club led by Serbian Vladimir Vermezovic a spot in the CAF Confederation Cup however, where they will be joined by the winners of this year’s domestic cup competition, the Nedbank Cup.

Unlike more illustrious sides, for most clubs a top eight finish in the Premier Soccer League is an achievement. Teams like Ajax Cape Town, Santos – who finished fourth -, Johannesburg club Moroka Swallows and Bloemfontein Celtic can be proud of their efforts this season. A top eight finish means a spot in the MTN top eight winner-takes-all competition to be staged later in the year.

If finishing in the top eight draws praise however, finishing towards the bottom only brings anguish and despair, and this season’s victim was Jomo Sono’s Cosmos, who failed to survive the heat and pressure of top flight football. Unfortunately for Jomo, Cosmos’ time among the elite was short as the club suffered their second relegation in three years, managing to stay in the Premier Soccer League for just one season. Their last chances amongst the big boys will be in the Telekom knockout competition and Nedbank Cup.

Mpumalanga Black Aces, who finished second from bottom, will have their life saving machine tested to see if they are fit from Premier Soccer League purposes as they take on one of National First Division sides Nathi Lions and African Warriors respectively in a playoff.

All that remains for the Premier Soccer League to do now is to recognise those who deserve awards, and six recipients will be called and crowned for their imperious performances over the season.   
One easy decision to make is the Coach of the Season, which SuperSport United’s Gavin Hunt looks certain to collect for the third year running. Hunt is the first coach in Premier Soccer League history to win three league titles in a row with the same club and his honour will be well deserved.

Last year’s Footballer of the Year Teko Modise of Orlando Pirates looks out of the running this time, but his Bafana Bafana team-mate Katlego Mphela, who should lead the country’s attack at the World Cup and finished the season with a staggering 17 league goals, bagging the Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot award, cannot be ruled out. Mphela’s performances have also made him one of the favourites for the Players’ Player of the Season.

Collectively SuperSport United have impressed in the defence of their league title, but a number of individual players were the main reason for their triumph. Defender Morgan Gould, Liberian Anthony Laffor and Diane Klate, a free-kick specialist, could indeed emerge with an award or two to their name.

National team boss Carlos Alberto Parreira’s wish to have all home based South African players available as early as March to prepare for the World Cup has been met. Attention now switches to the cup competitions, with the Telekom knockout competition the first up for grabs. The last event of the season will be the Nedbank Cup final, scheduled to be played on the weekend of 22-23 May.

South Africa can reflect on a season where SuperSport United have reigned supreme in a World Cup year, seeing off their rich neighbours and dashingly dominating the league while the so called giants and big guns could only watch on. Both SuperSport and Sundowns will represent South Africa in the MTN CAF Champions League next season, while the Premier Soccer League will welcome another Cape Town based club in the shape of Vasco Da Gama, who replace relegated Jomo Cosmos. The identity of the second and last member of the 2010/11 Premier Soccer League will be revealed soon.


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