Why Orlando Pirates' transfer business may not help them catch Mamelodi Sundowns

Hlompho Kekana of Mamelodi Sundowns challenged by Fortune Makaringe of Orlando Pirates, January 2020
Looking at the Buccaneers' squad, there is a lack of continuity - not many players have been at the club for any reasonable length of time

In what was an unusual transfer window period, Orlando Pirates were one of the few clubs to have done any significant business.

The other exceptions were Mamelodi Sundowns and AmaZulu, the latter who were backed by new owner Sandile Zungu's ambition, as well as the cash-splashing Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila FC, who also forked out many millions to buy the franchise of Bidvest Wits. To a slightly lesser extent, newly-promoted Swallows FC also went out and bought quite a few players.

Kaizer Chiefs were, of course, unable to buy any new players due to their Fifa transfer ban - they'll also miss the mid-season window and will have to wait before the 2021/ 22 off-season to add to their squad.

For the most part though, Covid-19 has seemingly played its part in cutting budgets. There have been numerous free transfers, and some clubs have taken advantage of the Wits as well as the Highlands Park franchise sales to snap up some free agents. Other teams have turned to players from the lower divisions, or to promoting from within their youth ranks.

The usual flurry of final day transfer business, which was dated yesterday, Monday 30 November, simply did not happen.

But back to Pirates. Bucs have undoubtedly made some good signings, and along with Sundowns, have arguably done the best business in terms of bringing in quality, desirable players, in the prime of their careers.

For Pirates this includes Richard Ofori, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Thabang Monare, Deon Hotto, Terrence Dzvukamanja and DR Congo striker Jean-Marc Makusu, who to be fair is unproven in the Premier Soccer League (PSL).

They did, however, allow several very good players including Luvuyo Memela, Xola Mlambo and Augustine Mulenga to depart, all for AmaZulu.

The issue one can see with Pirates, who have also signed heavily in the last few transfer windows, is that they are lacking a solid core of players who have been with the club for a while and who are able to transfer the team's culture onto the newcomers. A lot of their current squad has arrived over the past two seasons.

Take their most recent starting XI, from the 1-1 draw with Baroka FC, as an example:
Ofori, Hlatshwayo, Nstikeli Nyauza, Paseka Mako, Wayde Jooste, Linda Mntambo, Fortune Makaringe, Nkanyiso Zungu, Siphesihle Ndlovu, Dzvukamanja and Zakhele Lepasa. Tshegofatso Mabasa, Hotto and Gabadinho Mhango came off the bench.

Of those 14 players, only Nyauza has been there for a long time; for the rest its a few months, or maybe at most a season or two. Even when adding Happy Jele and Innocent Maela to the mix, both unused subs in the Baroka game, it's clear that Pirates do not have a stable core of players who have been together for a long time.

This may explain why they've blown hot and cold this season - for the most part, the Buccaneers have played pretty well, but there have also been a few less convincing performances, especially in the absence of the injured Vincent Pule and Thembinkosi Lorch.

One really has to wonder about the wisdom of selling Memela, who would be a perfect stand-in for Lorch or Pule, or Mlambo, whose creativity in the middle of the park seems to be missed.

Contrast this all to Mamelodi Sundowns. Yes, the Brazilians probably got carried away with signings, and there will be a couple of the new men who won't play too much this season.

But there are several who are already making an impact, most notably Peter Shalulile and Kermit Erasmus.

It's looking at the core of the team though where Downs have the clear advantage. They have players who have experienced winning the Caf Champions League in 2016, or at least a couple of league titles, not to mention the domestic treble last season, since then.

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The likes of Denis Onyango, Hlompho Kekana, Themba Zwane, Tebogo Langerman, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Kennedy Mweeene, Wayne Arendse and Ricardo Nascimento and Motjeka Madisha for starters, have been there for four or even more seasons. Others such as Andile Jali, Lyle Lakay, Lebohang Maboe, Gaston Sirino, Rivaldo Coetzee and Mosa Lebusa are going into their third or fourth season with the club.

So Downs can afford to introduce the new players gradually, while still maintaining a familiar core. And of course, they have players used to winning leagues and cups.

Bucs may have enough to challenge in the knockout competitions but its really difficult to see them or any other team catching the mighty Masandawana in the league.