Tough Schedule For Big Boys

South African teams have previously shown that they have problems when it comes to dealing with the pressure of a congested fixture line-up.  Most of the burning up towards the end of each season has proved to be due to the January/February fixtures for the teams that compete in the CAF competitions.  Think Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.  Whenever they take part in the continental competitions, they struggle to win anything domestically.  They, along with Bidvest Wits and Mamelodi Sundowns, will have to deal with such demands again this season.  They not only have to deal with that, but also the fact that some of their top players will be away on national duty in parts of January and February for AFCON in Equatorial Guinea.

They will lose some key players who might come back tired, also taking into account the climate conditions out there.  Chiefs will have to part with guys like Mandla Masango, Eric Mathoho, Tefu Mashamaite, Yeye Letsholonyane and Brilliant Khuzwayo.  Pirates will fork out Oupa Manyisa, Kermit Erasmus, Thabo Matlaba, Ntsikelelo Nyauza and Lehlohonolo Majoro.  On the Wits side, Gavin Hunt stands to lose his captain Sibusiso Vilakazi and Thulani Hlatshwayo.  Sundowns have been lending Themba Zwane to Bafana, but there’s a chance that guys like Bongani Zungu and Ramahlwe Mphahlele can be called up.

I mentioned all these players because they are all vital to their teams’ success this season.  Their coaches simply cannot afford to replace them in their line-ups.  Now we know that these coaches will most likely let their players go to AFCON, having pledged their support for the national team.  But one thing that is in their control is which team plays in the CAF Champions’ League and CAF Confederation Cup.  They know that if they do not take part in those competitions as mandatory, they will be flirting with possible sanctions in the form of fines or even being banned, so they will go.

But whether they will play their strongest teams remains to be seen.  We all know that Chiefs does not want to travel around the continent for those long hours and still come back to play in the league, and also the Nedbank Cup, so they might just be tempted to ‘deliberately’ get eliminated, thus having to only focus on domestic football, and avoiding a ban at the same time.  The two teams that I’m pretty sure will have a full go on the continent is Pirates and Sundowns.  Although this time they will not be in the most elite of the continental tournaments.  Pirates did show that they do take Africa seriously with their incredible run all the way up to the final last time out.  With Sundowns, it is an open secret that Patrice Motsepe couldn’t care less about winning anything locally, but rather wants to “conquer the continent”.  So as much as Pitso is under pressure to lift the team from their current position on the log, his boss will only get really upset should he not make considerable advancements in the Champions League.  With Gavin Hunt it’s a bit tricky to predict because he has lamented the travel demands before in his time at Supersport United, but has also credited Pirates’ run to every final last season to having participated in the continent.

Now there are two sides to the coin here.  The first question is whether these teams should play their second string teams in these African competitions.  Of course not.  Gavin Hunt was right.  Taking part there can only be good for our players and our local teams, and ultimately Bafana Bafana.  If we have more teams playing in the Champions League and Confederation Cup regularly, especially our big teams, then we have a much better chance of being a real force as a country.  Logic dictates that if you’re going to write a Maths test, you study for a Maths test.  If you study Biology, well you will have problems in the exam room.
The second question is whether it is fair for those teams to go out there and risk fatigue when they come back, in the end losing out both in the continent and domestically?  Well it is unfortunate that unlike in Europe, where teams would travel about two hours to go to another country to play in the Uefa Champions League, we just have to deal with it.  The situation is the same for every other team in Africa.  Egypt dominated the continent for so long because Al Ahly and Zamalek were dominant in the club tournaments.
We need to get out of our comfort zone as South Africans because so far, that has not produced anything for us.  If it means we have to play the fringe players domestically, so be it.  Brendan Rodgers came under heavy criticism when he rested some key players against Real Madrid in the Champions League, just so they can be fresh for their game with Chelsea.  This is because he was believed to care more about the Premier League that the Champions League.  It was shocking because everybody knows that you give your all in the Champions League.  It is the ultimate.  I hope our teams will learn something from the Europeans in this regard.  But Pitso Mosimane said something important after their game with Kaizer Chiefs.  Knowing how thick the schedules will be, he said “… this is where the cracks will show.  We’ll see who’ll survive”.  It all depends on who has more stamina, and we’ll be keeping a keen eye.