Pundits tip Pirates to defend championship
ORLANDO Pirates are yet again favourites to retain their Absa Premiership title according to former players and coaches, but Mamelodi Sundowns are expected to push them right down to the wire.
The Premier League season kicks off tonight and champions Pirates have been singled out by pundits, who have also warned that striker Benni McCarthy would need to shake off being injury- prone for the Buccaneers to keep the trophy.
"It obviously takes longer for players over 30 to recover from injuries. But it's important for Pirates for Benni to stay fit and ready to score the goals," said former Kaizer Chiefs and Sundowns goalkeeper Brian Baloyi.
Baloyi has picked the Buccaneers as the "team to beat this season", adding that while rivals Chiefs, Sundowns and Supersport United will always be in the running, it "looks like Pirates are clear favourites once again".
The treble champions open their season with a home game against Golden Arrows at Orlando stadium tonight, with Supersport travelling to Cape Town to face Ajax in the other match.
Isaac "Shakes" Kungwane, Baloyi's teammate at Chiefs in the '90s, also believes Pirates can win the league, but chose Moroka Swallows - last season's runners-up - to repeat that feat.
Kungwane, now a TV soccer analyst, said: "Pirates have got enough depth to cover each and every position. And they are doing it by signing experienced players."
He said Chiefs' 4-1 defeat to Sundowns in the MTN8 last week showed that there was still "something missing in that Chiefs team", but that shouldn't cloud their entire season.
Sundowns still have a believer in former coach Ian Gorowa, who yesterday said that keeping Johan Neeskens at the helm was the right move by club president and big-spender Patrice Motsepe.
The Brazilians finished the season in fourth spot after topping the PSL log table for the best part of the season, but the wheels came off in the final weeks of the campaign.
"I think Neeskens would have used his first season to acclimatise and get to know the PSL better. The advantage is that while they have invested heavily in new players again this season, they have kept a very good coach on board," said Gorowa.
He noted, however, that Sundowns lacked the "winning mentality that Pirates have".
"I suppose after you have won the treble two seasons in a row that comes naturally," he said. "Sundowns don't yet have that. Maybe Neeskens has now worked on it."
And finally Lucas Radebe, a long-time admirer of Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter, believes the Englishman will bring the glory days back to Naturena.
"They have bought well and I think those players have got what it takes to win trophies for Chiefs this season," said Radebe, a former Leeds United and Bafana skipper.
Amakhosi finished the previous campaign in fifth position, having sacked coach Vladimir Vermezovic seven matches before the end of the season.
"I think they have such a good motivator in Stuart, and if they can stay disciplined, they can win cups," said Radebe.