In the inaugural SAFA National Women’s League (SNWL), Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies achieved the improbable by going the entire campaign without dropping a single point.
With football still suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the SA Football Association (SAFA) decided to end the first-ever SNWL season with only one round of fixtures left, declaring Sundowns Ladies champions for the 2019/20 campaign.
The Sundowns Ladies 2019/20 team can be described as ‘The Invincibles’ which is a phrase used in football to refer to the Arsenal team of the 2003/2004 season as they went unbeaten under Arsene Wenger in their 38 Premier League (PL) games.
Sundowns Ladies accomplished a similar feat as they won all their 21 matches, scoring 82 goals and only conceding 12 – ending the season on 63 points, nine ahead of their rivals Tshwane University of Technology Ladies (TUT) in second place with Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies making up the top three.
“Our season was very tough, remember we lost two of our best players when we were about to start the season, we were so unfortunate, losing two players, Andisiwe Mgcoyi and our captain Zanele Nhlapo to one of the European teams but we started our campaign well,” said Sundowns Ladies head coach Jerry Tshabalala in an interview with FARPost.
The Target For The Season
“It is my belief as a coach that you be as open as possible to the players and by being open to your players, it will help you achieve your target and goals. Setting a target with the players makes things easier,” said Tshabalala.
“First round we targeted 31 points, we knew that along the way we could draw or lose a game, but lucky enough when you reach 27 points without dropping a simple point you start believing that you can finish the season without losing a match. We have 12 teams which makes it 33 points, so our target was to at least only drop 2 points in 11 games, but we managed to get all the 33 points in the first round.
“After that, we set a new target for the second round, which was to get to 64 points even though we knew it was going to be tough as most teams now have an idea of our playing style,” explained the Downs Ladies mentor.
It Was Not A Walk In The Park
“People might say we didn’t have competition, that it was easy for us but there are games, three or four where we struggled and where it looked like we were going to drop points but because of the belief my players have it was a different story,” said Tshabalala.
“We went down to Celtic in Bloemfontein, we won 1-0, that should tell you that it was never easy, we went down to Northern Cape, you play against a team that is third from the bottom and you came back with a 1-0 score, we travelled to play against First Touch Ladies, at half-time we were trailing by 2-0 and came back to win 3-2, so does that mean it was easy? No, it was never easy, so the players showed character, and as a coach, I had to come on board as well.
“You look at Barcelona and they don’t change how they play, it is consistency all the way, you look at Sundowns, play the same way, especially Sundowns first team, they don’t change, so coach Pitso will tell you that do what you believe in if it works for you, why must you change it.”
According to Tshabalala, it was difficult for teams to understand Sundowns’ style of play as he implemented a formation strategy that was unfamiliar and that made his side unstoppable.
“From the outside, people will look at our pattern of play and get confused as to whether we play 3-4-3, or we play 3-5-2 and it is good for us to confuse our opponents. But the strategy that really worked for us is 3-5-2 but there are games where we had to change to 4-5-1 as the opponents were stronger than us.
“In the Northern Cape, we only scored 1 goal, it was windy and we are not used to those conditions, We also went to the Western Cape where we played against the University of Western Cape (UWC Ladies), one of the teams I will never forget. By the end of the first half, the score is 0-0 and 70 minutes into the second half, it is still 0-0 and I was forced to change the way we play,” added Tshabalala.
“Our philosophy, we believe more into 3-5-2. Our midfield is always packed, we enjoying packing it, is either we have five players in the middle and two strikers with the other players from the middle adding more as strikers, you need to have that player that goes box to box when we attack, we add numbers.”
Tshabalala, who became the first coach to win the SNWL, says it was more of a team effort than individual brilliance.
“I believe it was a team effort performance-wise, I won’t single out a player and say it was Rhoda Mulaudzi or Nonhlanhla Mthandi or Oratile Mokoena but because it was a team effort, if their teammates were not where they wouldn’t shine.
“Rhoda, yes she scored a lot of goals in a short space of time but those goals came from the assists, from her teammates. Look at the goals we conceded, we only conceded 12 goals, the defenders did their job, the midfielders as well, the efforts they put in for the strikers to score, it was teamwork, everybody stood out for me.
“I have been in Women’s football for some time now, I don’t believe much in individual glory, whatever that I have achieved, it wouldn’t have been possible without the players but I know that I have played my part, I am reaping the rewards of having players that listen to the coach, players who really believe in me. I also want to give credit to the technical team, the management, the supporters.
History Makers, New Standard
There is no doubt that Tshabalala’s Sundowns Ladies set a new standard, one that will be extremely difficult to try and meet.
“We are the first team to win this league and it is going to be written in the history books. We played our hearts out and created history. The aim was to win the league, not to finish the season unbeaten. But after 17 games, we started to realise that it is possible to go the entire season without a defeat, without dropping a single point.
In an interview with FAPost in March, SAFA’s head of competitions Thomas Sadiki refused to disclose the prize money or confirm if there is any prize money for the league champions.
“I cannot tell you the prize money because we are finalising the teams’ issues, it is not all about the prize money for number one,” said Sadiki
Tshabalala said that they haven’t received anything in writing from SAFA. “The last time we heard from SAFA was in our first meeting when they were launching the league.
“I don’t even know what the trophy looks like, the only thing that I know is that we won the league, what matters is that we have won.
Sundowns Ladies captain Agnes Nkosi echoed Tshabalala’s comments on SAFA. “We haven’t seen anything, from the trophy, prize money, SAFA only announced that we are the champions, we are still waiting for communication and explanation as to what is happening.
“It feels great to be officially crowned the champions of the SNWL, we worked extremely hard, we also started early to prepare for the league and with the way we played, we deserve to win it,” concluded Nkosi.
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