SuperSport United, Gavin Hunt trying to keep up with neighbours Mamelodi Sundowns

Mamelodi Sundowns’ Rhulani Rulani Mokwena and Gavin Hunt of SuperSport United during a photo opportunity.

Mamelodi Sundowns’ Rhulani Rulani Mokwena and Gavin Hunt of SuperSport United go head-to-head in the Tshwane derby. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix

Published Nov 29, 2023

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Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United’s evolution might tell a story of two teams who live worlds apart, but the arch-rivals always go full throttle whenever they cross paths.

Season in and season out, the Tshwane derby has lived up to expectations, thanks to the thrills and spills on the pitch. However, it’s the Brazilians that have won the ultimate prize in the DStv Premiership for the past six seasons – to stand head and shoulders above their 15 peers.

And it doesn’t seem Sundowns’ dominance will end any time soon, as they are eager to retain their top spot on the log tonight against SuperSport, after being displaced by Cape Town City over the weekend.

The Brazilians are one point behind the Citizens on the log and have five games in hand, having been busy with a successful African adventure in the past few weeks.

They will have to prove that they are made of sterner stuff by beating their arch-rivals, who trail them by a point, despite not getting proper training.

“To develop as a team, you need training,” Sundowns’ coach Rhulani Mokwena said this week, prior to the derby in Atteridgeville.

“Unfortunately, we can’t train. Even during the Fifa break, I gave a couple of players some days off, we had had some players who were with their respective national teams and some are injured.

“It was tough to even conduct training.”

But as the phrase goes, “adversity is the breakfast of champions”, and Sundowns do not get to sulk and moan about fixture congestion like Mokwena’s counterparts have been doing in recent weeks.

“I haven’t complained once,” Mokwena said of the tight schedule. “No. I’ve only spoken about these issues, I haven’t complained about them, though.

“We have no excuses, no matter what happens or how valid those excuses are. We present the mentality of no excuses in every single day and try to do that we can.”

It’s factors like the mindset and expectations that separate the two sides. While Sundowns can’t be forgiven for dropping points or losing a game, SuperSport can get away with that. But the winning appetite of their four-time title-winning coach Gavin Hunt doesn’t allow them to rest on their laurels. Hence they fight smartly.

“There was things I wanted to get but I couldn’t get. So, we have to box cleverly, smart boxing. It’s not about trying to play free- flowing football,” Hunt said.

SuperSport’s growth over the years was also disrupted by Sundowns, who raided their squad for top players every season due to their big budget.

But again, Hunt has tried to make do with what he has. Last season, he guided the side to a top-three finish for the first time since he left the club more than a decade ago.

“They’ve been successful, they’ve been brilliant, they’ve really gone at it and invested heavily, but you can’t compare the rest of the PSL teams to Sundowns,” Hunt said.

“They’ve done a great job overall, you’ve got to give them credit all around. Rhulani (has) done a great job, he’s come in there and (been) brilliant, and he’s stuck to his guns.”

Mokwena is also a great admirer of Hunt, who is one of the most successful coaches in the land.

But the mutual admiration society will be put on hold when the two men go head-to-head in the derby tonight.

“He remains an inspiration. He’s a nice guy and a good human being. And that helps too in being a good coach. He’s someone I admire,” he said.

“But for sure, during the 90 minutes, that disappears and we go full throttle and try to (win) the three points for our respective teams on the day.”

@Mihlalibaleka