It’s been 201 days since Mamelodi Sundowns last lost a league game. Their exploits may not be making global news where the Premier League and La Liga are dominant, but you probably won’t see a more emphatic professional title win anywhere else in the world.
Sundowns’ success isn’t new, they’ve won 15 league titles since being formed 53 years ago in 1970, and picked up seven of them since the 2013/14 season. This season though, they’re bulldozing their way to victory.
You see, it’s March, and the 2022/23 is practically theirs already. Under the tutelage of Rulani Mokwena – now the sole head coach after the club scrapped a co-coaching system in October – Sundowns have gone from strength to strength.
The great South African manager, Pitso Mosimane, started the current generation of success – it was he who began their modern-day dominance of the Premier Soccer League. Mokwena has just picked up the baton.
Heading into the international break they have eight players in South Africa’s squad that will face Liberia in African Cup of Nations qualifiers, and a whole host of other internationals jetting off around the continent.
The chances are that they’ll return from national duty and be DStv Premiership champions within a week. They face Cape Town City on April 1st knowing that a win would seal the deal and a point would possibly even be enough. They’re 20 points clear of second place – and their goal difference is literally quadruple their nearest competitors (+36/+9).
Mokwena’s side have two of the top three goalscorers in the league – Namibian sharpshooter, Peter Shalulile, and academy graduate, Cassius Mailula – and Shalulile (11) sits top of the pile despite having missed a big chunk of the season due to injury.
In Shalulile they have the most consistent goalscorer the South African league has seen for years, and 21-year-old Mailula is having the breakout season of his dreams as he helps fire them to yet more silverware for their overflowing trophy cabinet.
Their last league match saw them smash five past Royal AM and hand a debut to 16-year-old Siyabonga Mabena, and their head coach says that it’s all about the collective.
“I think I just see incredibly gifted football players,” he said after putting another team to the sword. “I learn a lot from them. I’ve never seen human beings like this before, and I think the story that they are telling is a life lesson for a lot of people, that if you put your profession first then you put the club first and this is what they do every single day.”
“They don’t have issues, they love each other, they live with everybody. You put a youngster in, they accommodate, they don’t look down on people, they don’t have gripes and that’s why God blesses them like this. They teach me that life is not about you. I think that’s what helps to be a top Sundowns player, is that you’re just a good human being.”
At the heart of it all is Themba Zwane. Now 33, ‘Mshishi’ has been there, done that, got the t-shirt. He’s won everything there is to win domestically, has a CAF Champions League and Super Cup to his name, and is now the man tasked with captaining the most successful modern team in the country.
Zwane’s numbers in terms of goals and assists may not be what they used to be, but he’s still only missed a handful of games this season and rolled back the years last month with a goal and assist in a comprehensive 5-2 win over Egyptian behemoth, Al Ahly, in continental action.
He’s loved by Masandawana, and lifting a league title as captain will be just reward for all that he’s given to the cause at Chloorkop – the name of their training facility in Pretoria.
Speaking to KickOff, Zwane’s manager said of him: “Behind the footballer, he is an incredible person, an incredible human being, he amazes me… You know that the modern-day leader is an influencer, Mshishi is an influencer, and he walks and grabs people’s attention.
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“He has this thing about him, he doesn’t demand it, he doesn’t force people into it. He gives it - he gives respect to people. He is good to people, and people in return are good to him. I think he deserves to be the captain of Mamelodi Sundowns… Mshishi’s influence is palpable. I see others coming and learning and being influenced by him.”
The league title now nothing but a formality, Sundowns have bigger fish to fry. They’ve conquered Africa before – but with Mokwena at the helm, Shalulile and Mailula firing, Ronwen Williams helping keep their sheets clean and Teboho Mokoena bossing the engine room, they’ve got a strong chance of doing it again.