On Saturday, a nine-month journey of 240 Premier Soccer League (PSL) matches begins.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
An eventful pre-season marked by so much transfer market activity has ended with clubs completing assembling squads to take them through this journey.
Much focus will be placed on strikers, most of whom have failed to at least reach double figures in recent years. Since Norman Maroto banged in 22 goals for Gunners four seasons ago, top-scorers have battled to reach the 20-goal mark with former Dynamos striker Roderick Mutuma finishing an all-time low at 14 goals in 2011.
Dynamos coach Kalisto Pasuwa and his Highlanders counterpart Kelvin Kaindu have cried foul over the dearth of strikers in the domestic league as they battle to get reliable marksmen.
A lot is at stake this season.
Dynamos begin their defence of triple titles they have bagged in the past three seasons while their old foes Highlanders and CAPS United’s campaigns would be centered on ending DeMbare’s dominance.
Highlanders are bidding for a first league title since 2006 as CAPS United seek to end a nine-year league title drought.
Having acquired established players like Tafadzwa Rusike, Masimba Mambare and Ronald Chitiyo, Dynamos have made clear their title defence intentions.
Dynamos’ capture of Mambare from Highlanders spiced transfer activity and invited the fury of Bosso fans and in the process earned the midfielder the “traitor” tag. A failed African Champions League campaign has however exposed their shortcomings, especially upfront.
But that might not matter to Dembare as they have dominated on the domestic front despite some glaring shortcomings and an average brand of football. They have already performed such ruthless intimidation by upstaging Highlanders in the final of the Bob90 Super Cup earlier this month.
However, the striking partnership of Washington Pakamisa and Simba Sithole has been struggling while Clive Kawinga and Farai Mupasiri seem to not have improved.
For all their new acquisitions that were laced with hype, Highlanders are yet to convince their fans that they are favourites for the title. Their Bob90 Super Cup loss to Dynamos in an unimpressive showing put coach Kaindu in a desperate corner especially to add more bite in attack where Milton Ncube has been reverted back to being a striker.
Bosso face the grim prospect of losing some of their best players mid-season to foreign clubs but club chairman Peter Dube appears unfazed.
“A loss of a good player would obviously have a negative effect on any team. But on the other hand, the departure should open doors for other players to rise and showcase what they can do. I think we have enough depth in case we lose some players,” said Dube.
Meanwhile CAPS United are also keen to restore old glory days. Taurai Mangwiro has reinforced his squad by recruiting foreign players following an exit by key players including Arnold Chivheya and Tawanda Nyamandwe. Highly-rated Malawi international forward Ishmael Thindwa is part of the arrivals at United.
“I do not want people to put Ishmael under unnecessary pressure,” said Mangwiro. “I have realised there are a lot of expectations on him but let us give him time. I am confident he will prove to be a very good striker. He is part of a balanced team which will make a very huge impact this season.”
FC Platinum have explained themselves as serious title contenders from the way they have fortified their squad. Following failure to land the league title and major trophies in the past three seasons they have campaigned in the top-flight league, they are hard-pressed to justify their financial stability in an environment where traditional giants are feeling the economic bite.
The Zvishavane side have been impressive this pre-season with Njabulo Ncube firing warning shots that he could be a cause for worry for other teams after packing in eight goals in friendly matches.
Raiding Ncube from Highlanders, FC Platinum could have a potent strikeforce that also includes Steven Sibanda, Nelson Mazivisa and Tarisai Rukanda who was snatched from town rivals Shabanie Mine.
Coach Lloyd Mutasa is not worried about Donald Ngoma’s imminent departure to Swedish side OSK Orebro.
“There is no doubt Donald is a vital member of the team. But we will not cry that he is going. We have plan B in the event he finally leaves,” said Mutasa.
The platinum miners nearly claimed the league title in their debut premiership campaign in 2011 but their fortunes have since waned.
“We will try to do better than the past seasons. We are happy with the squad we have assembled and yes, chances are there to lift the league title. Seeing other teams in pre-season friendlies as well as knowing signings by others, I foresee a competitive season coming up.”
Across the town of Zvishavane, arch enemies Shabanie Mine have been going about their business silently following a mass exodus of players. Shabanie coach John Phiri settled for Division One players as well as former players from relegated Monomotapa.
“We lost a lot of player so we are building the team from scratch. So it is hard for us to talk about winning the championship because we are reestablishing ourselves again. Surviving relegation would be our prime concern this season before we fight for the title next year,” said Phiri.
Hamilton Masamubuko, Carlos Messi, Nelson Melson, Godknows Murwira, Allan Tavarwisa and Zvikomborero Bizeki are the players brought in from Monomotapa.
Veteran defender Zvenyika Makonese has become Shabanie’s latest signing with the defender coming in together with Louis Matawu, Michael Mageja and Douglas Sibanda who is on loan from Highlanders.
Like Shabanie, fellow miners Hwange are also quietly preparing for the season. Nation Dube’s team is largely unchanged with only two additions to the squad that did duty last term.
Former Dynamos and FC Platinum striker Aleck Marime charmed Dube after ending the season with 10 goals for relegated Tripple B in a league where strikers are struggling to reach double figures.
Newman Sianchali plucked from Binga is also a new face at Hwange, who have managed to retain Warriors defender Eric Chipeta who could however move to South Africa in June.
“Our squad is good. It is an advantage for us in terms of continuity that we managed to keep most of the players from last season,” said Dube.
Newly promoted ZPC Kariba, Moses Chunga’s Chiredzi United and returnees Chapungu and Bantu Rovers would be battling to maintain their premiership status. After some clubs were heavily fined last season for hooliganism, PSL chief executive officer Kenny Ndebele has called for discipline.
“We would like to urge football clubs, coaches, players and fans to create fun and enjoyment during matches. Violence and hooliganism are a danger to our sport,” said Ndebele.