Supersport United – Last Season, Recruitment & Depth

Matsatsantsa scraped into the top eight last season on goal difference after beating Orlando Pirates in their final match. They have a new coach in four-time league winner Gavin Hunt and a young, exciting group of players. Even with key players departing in the last two transfer windows, there is much to look forward to at SuperSport United.

Last Term – School Is Out (But So Is Tembo)

The most memorable aspect of last season at SuperSport was how many young players were given regular minutes. Having seen senior players like Dean Furman, Aubrey Modiba, Grant Kekana, and Teboho Mokoena depart in the preceding couple of years, a real pathway emerged in defence and midfield. Their start to last season was outstanding with four wins and three draws in their opening seven matches. Unfortunately, the side fell away badly after that, seeing a run of four home losses in seven at one point and a streak of one away win in eight to finish the season.

The coach Kaitano Tembo eventually just his job having seen his young side throw away 2-0 leads against Orlando Pirates and lower division TTM (in the Nedbank Cup) to lose both matches 3-2. Andre Arendse stepped in to steady the ship as caretaker and he helped the team produce four clean sheets in their final six matches, beating both Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. It was not an easy campaign but a big learning experience for the young defenders and midfielders in particular who were thrown into more minutes than expected by Buhle Mkhwanazi being frozen out after refusing to get vaccinated and Mokoena’s sale.

Hunt Returns

The massive news of this off-season was the return of Gavin Hunt as a coach, having previously won three league titles at the club. His last two jobs have not gone well as he was dismissed by both Kaizer Chiefs and Chippa United. Straight after his arrival, he bemoaned the use of modern football language like “transition” and “rest defence” and will seemingly embrace his old school nature to the full.

Things won’t be straightforward for him as SuperSport are very much a selling club now. Having seen Mokoena leave in January, both Ronwen Williams and Sipho Mbule have also departed for Mamelodi Sundowns ahead of this season. In his career in coaching, Gavin Hunt has never been slow to hand opportunities to young players not been afraid to select guys deep into their thirties. He arrives with a big point to prove, to Amakhosi in particular that he deserved more time. It also feels a bit like the last chance saloon for the legendary coach.

Recruitment – Experience Arrives, Stars Depart

After the sale of captain and goalkeeper Ronwen Williams to Sundowns, Hunt secured an impressive replacement in Ricardo Goss, whose form under the coach at Bidvest Wits is what prompted Masandawana to move for his signature. He has joined on a two-year loan deal and so has another player from the Brazilians, striker Thabang Sibanyoni. He spent last season on loan at Sekhukhune United until January and then Tuks for the rest of the season.

A big-name arrival is that of former Bafana Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo in central defence after a nightmare two years at Orlando Pirates. He looked uncomfortable being asked to play out from the back and joining his former coach from Bidvest Wits and playing a more pragmatic style of play will be a welcome sight. “Tyson” joins a pool of very talented but young centre halves in Botswana captain, Thatayaone Ditlhokwe, Luke Fleurs, and Kegan Johannes, who recently captained South Africa in the COSAFA Cup. Sipho Mbule, who was contributing nothing due to his weight issues and subsequent club suspension, has been replaced by a more tactically disciplined player in Grant Margeman so the squad doesn’t look in terrible shape after this transfer window.

How Hunt Could Set Them Up

Kaitano Tembo used various shapes from a flat 4-4-2 with two strikers to a 4-3-3. He even went to a 4-4-2 shape using central midfielder Mbule and Jamie Webber on the flanks at one point in the 2020-21 campaign. Hunt usually goes with a back four, a very disciplined double pivot, two old-school touchline hugging wingers, and then either two strikers, or a lone forward with a player just behind.

Supersport United Depth Chart

*Realistic options to play regularly – excludes fringe players
*Accurate up to 2 August

The squad is full of young players. In midfield, Jesse Donn has done well as a keep-it-simple replacement for Dean Furman and has earned himself a couple of national team call-ups. Jamie Webber is a good player too with a strong shot on him and real energy, whilst Margeman brings quality in tight spaces. Beyond those starting three, there are mostly young players such as Thalente Mbatha and Selaelo Rasebotja, who just featured in the COSAFA Cup and who impressed the last term. Thapelo Maseko is another who was in Helman Mkhalele’s squad and who could get minutes off a flank or in a more central attacking midfield role.

Hunt has spoken publicly about chasing Bernard Parker on a free transfer and it could be with an eye on using him in central midfield for some experience and know-how alongside the kids. Defensively, the side has depth at centre back and right back (where Johannes can also slot in) but Onismor Bhasera is the only current specialist left back. Getting Sifiso Ngobeni on another loan from Sundowns would be wise as Bhasera is now 36 years old.

In attack, Ghampani Lunga can score goals and has searing pace on either flank or as a striker or even at right wingback. Giuly Manziba is a pure winger and was impressive when he first arrived so Hunt could get him back to his former levels – he is a straightforward one-vs-one wide man who whips in crosses for his strikers, something Hunt loves.

Bradley Grobler is absolutely key up front for SuperSport. Although he is now 34, he won the 2020-21 PSL Golden Boot but was injured for practically all of last season (571 minutes played). Target man, Thamsanqa Gabuza is someone Hunt will use often and then there’s Sibanyoni too. With those three strikers and Lungu able to play up front (plus the possible arrival of Bernard Parker as an option), Hunt could use a 4-4-2 quite a bit.

Verdict

SuperSport were not a million miles of a title challenge two years ago but the sale of so many big stars has hit them hard. Having scraped into the top eight last term and then seeing a couple more players leave, this season will be a building campaign. Hunt will look to get his ideas across and put a winning mentality into the younger players, whilst squeezing the last few drops out of Grobler, Gabuza, Aubrey Ngoma and Hlatshwayo.

The kids at Hunt’s disposal are really good and we should continue to see Fleurs, Margeman, and Donn impress in the 12 months ahead. A lot will depend on keeping Grobler fit and firing and whether Goss can perform at a similar level to what Williams was producing.

Prediction:

Best Possible Finish: FOURTH

Worst Possible Finish: EIGHTH

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Author: editor

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