The stop-start nature of the league in South Africa has been the subject of much debate over the years, with most if not all the coaches of the opinion that there is not enough football played in the Absa Premiership, suggesting that maybe the 18-team format is the way to go. Take this current season for an example, we are in October already but only seven league games have been played. This of course is due to the extended breaks that the teams have had to endure either with international breaks or cup football.
We all know that all these breaks are mandatory and we’re all for the FIFA dates, but certain quarters feel that there is no need for a week’s halt before the cup games, and I must admit that I agree. The last time we saw league football was over a week ago and we went on a break because of the first round of the Telkom Knockout. Why was there no scheduled matches for either Tuesday or Wednesday night? It happens all over the world, why are the players in South Africa being shielded?
The issue with having not played league matches during the week last week is that now we have the international week, meaning it now turns into a two-week break. The national players go into camp and will have some sort of competitive game time at the weekend, but the rest have to rely on training and practice matches. That’s not all, the break will extend into the third week because the AFCON qualifiers spill into the week of the 15th, and all this means we will only see the league coming back on the weekend of the 18th.
This, like all the other years, will cause problems for the teams not only with their momentum and rhythm, but also the fixture congestion come the second half of the season. From January, four teams that finished at the top last season, Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs, Bidvest Wits, and Orlando Pirates will be involved in continental football, and inevitably some of their league matches will have to be moved. It will now be a case of teams having games in hand, which is sometimes unfair to other teams or those very teams with games in hand.
We all know that Pirates had done well to go to the final of the CAF Champions League, and by the time they were defeated there by Egyptian giants Al Ahly, they realized they still have a backlog of games to get through. I think they just got tired by looking at their heavy schedule, considering they also had the Nedbank Cup to play. Sadly, the Buccaneers never recovered, and ironically, the man who runs the league is also the Pirates boss.
My point here is that when it did happen that our teams stayed for so long in the Champions League, it looked like we are running a fly-by-night league where no provision was made for such situations. When we had the time to play as many league games as we want, we were having unnecessarily long breaks that are too frequent. I remember when the penultimate round of matches was supposed to be played last season, the league now announced that the games are moved to make sure everybody plays at the same time “in the spirit of fair play”. This was correct of course but why is it only then that everyone needs to play at the same time? Somebody had dropped the ball.
Not all teams were involved in the MTN 8, for obvious reasons, but they were not playing any sort of football when the competition played. I’m not saying they should play on the same day that the cup matches are played, but there is absolutely no need to have them stop playing the whole week when they’re not even going to play in the competition. Football players are paid to play football, and the issue of fatigue is over-used in this country. Players all over the world are conditioned to play a lot of matches, our teams should follow suit.
The decision makers within the PSL need to wake up and smell the coffee. Gavin Hunt put it correctly last week when he said, “We don’t play enough football in South Africa.” The more matches we get, the faster the pace of the game, and I can put my head on the block and say the more interesting to the fans it would be.