Firstly, let’s welcome Baroka FC and Highlands Park to the Absa Premiership after both gained promotion from the National First Division for the 2016/17 season. It is always very exciting to see new boys in the top league to add a bit of spice for the football loving community. Having said that, both will be well aware that it is not as easy to survive here like most often think.
There is a school of thought that the NFD is much tougher than the more luminary top tier league, and this might be true in certain aspects. It is much more grueling considering the conditions they play in, the limited facilities they have to execute it all, the fact that everyone wants to see their clubs go up, and/or each player playing to secure a big money move to the big clubs.
But let us be honest, the Premiership is not for the faint-hearted. Many times we’ve seen promising clubs come into this league, and go straight back down. Some manage to stay a season or two then just suffocate and eventually find themselves back in the NFD. Even Chippa United came, went, then came again on the way to eventually finding their feet in the league.
Some like Santos were seasoned campaigners but got the boot and never came back. We recently saw the demise of Moroka Swallows, a club with so much history that goes back almost 70 years, but still the unthinkable happened. And Jomo Cosmos? Have you seen their struggle? Have you seen how they just cannot seem to crack it among the big boys? It is almost as if they need a league of their own. Too good for the NFD, but shockingly bad for the Premiership.
All this is to show you that the South African league is no child’s play. Much like individual players who might shine at smaller clubs but struggle in the relatively bigger ones, so too can be the case for league newcomers. There are three types of clubs you will find in the top league: The league title chasers, the top eight hopefuls, and the ‘just survive’ type of clubs. It will be of utmost importance that both these sides hit the ground running from the word go and try with all they have got to keep within touching distance of the first two groups.
Just like in a marathon as we always compare league football, once the front guys pull away, it will be very difficult to catch them. The same with the peloton in cycling. If they don’t do this and find themselves having not collected enough points by Christmas, it will be very difficult in the uphill of the second half of the season, also considering that the schedule is likely to be tight having started late due to the Olympics and the AFCON break in January.
Those are just the basics they will have to bear in mind. They will also have to come up against the might of champions Mamelodi Sundowns, and large crowds of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates which might intimidate them. There is also Supersport United, Bidvest Wits, Platinum Stars, and Ajax Cape Town. All these clubs are coached by some of the finest tacticians the country has to offer, and will be in no mood for charity on any given day.
So it will be very tough for Baroka and Higlands to replicate their success in the lower league. So this is the little piece of advice I have to offer for the two clubs, but I’m confident coaches Kgoloko Thobejane and Allan Freese will have already brought their payers back to planet earth by now, and are ready to have a go at it once the first whistle blows next week. And if what we saw in their games last season is anything to go by, then we should all buckle up for some good football. Good Luck!