• The secret behind Wits’ title glory

    Bidvest wits' title triumph Wits celebrate James Keene's goal

    Bidvest Wits clinched their maiden PSL title, but there was a lot more to their title triumph than only a star-studded squad, MARSHALL GOUTS explores five reasons why they achieved glory.

    1) A perfect plan:

    Gavin Hunt took over the reins at the Sturrock Park-based outfit in May 2013 after a successful six-year spell with former club SuperSport United, which culminated in the historic achievement of winning three consecutive PSL titles.

    In his first season in charge at Wits, Hunt set about bolstering his squad, roping in experienced campaigners such as Matthew Booth, Onismor Bhasera, Moneeb Josephs and Benjamin Mwaruwari, to mention a few. The above-mentioned players wouldn’t bring him title success (barring Josephs), but gradually tweaking his squad every year helped the former Seven Stars mentor piece together his puzzle.

    Hunt finished the 2013/14 campaign in third spot, nine points behind winners, Mamelodi Sundowns. A real baptism of fire, if anything, his first season at the helm would serve as a real eye-opener where future improvements would need to be made with his team.

    Backed by the financial muscle of BidVest owner Brian Joffe, and the business know-how of CEO Jose Ferreira, Hunt ensured that his seeds of thought were harvested, leading Wits to a historic double, consisting of the MTN 8 and league title.

    2) Avoiding the Caf distraction:

    Wits fought valiantly in their CAF Champions League first-round matches against Egyptian giants Al Ahly, eventually succumbing to a 1-0 defeat on aggregate in their two-legged affair. What could have been a historic victory for the Clever Boys turned out to be a hard-fought victory for Ahly.

    With hindsight, Wits ‘failure’ in Africa can be seen as a blessing in disguise, as their dismissal from the tournament forced them to prioritise the league title, had they not already done so.

    As Hunt pointed out, his squad were ‘decimated by injuries every week’, and if they had to continue their African quest, who knows how things could have panned out on the domestic front?

    3) Team effort:

    Six-time PSL winner Daine Klate made mention of it after they sealed the title, with comments which could have been misconstrued that he might have been taking shots at certain title rival outfits, but he hit the nail on the head with his frank sentiments.

    “We kept going through the season, We had our own goals, we worked hard at training, we played for each other.

    “There was a lot of talk in other teams, Player Of The Season this and that.

    “Each and everybody came through for the team. We didn’t depend on one individual and that was the story of our season,” he said.

    Nobody was guaranteed a starting berth at Wits, not even the country’s most decorated player in Klate. I remember Gabadinho Mhango was in devasting form for Wits at one stage in the season, notching up consecutive man-of-the-match awards week after week, until his role became limited to substitute appearances.

    Hunt knew how to get the best from his players, instilling a never-say-die attitude, which in turn saw his team take the field like men possessed in each game, willing to bleed for him.

    4) Blending youth with experience:

    A squad with an abundance of talent is bound to cause a selection headache, but with Hunt, who is known to be a fan of the rotation policy, this provided the perfect opportunity to flex his squad depth.

    Boasting almost two to three quality players in each position, Hunt not only created good combinations in the likes of Thulani Hlatswayo/Buhle Mkhwanazi, Xola Mlambo/Thabang Monare and Mhango/Eleazar Rodgers, but when called upon, the 53-year-old amended these combinations – Mkhwanazi/Bongani Khumalo, Monare/Granwald Scott and Mhango/Phakamani Mahlambi, to show that he always had a plan A, B and C up his sleeve.

    Hunt lost experienced defender Nazeer Allie to injury, but 19-year-old Reeve Frosler came in and did an excellent job deputising for the former Ajax Cape Town man, so much so that Frosler became a permanent feature in the Wits side.

    Mahlambi proved to be a similar success story for Hunt after coming back from his knee injury to make a meaningful impact, while also cleverly utilising the likes of Phumlani Ntshangase, Ben Motshwari, Sifiso Myeni, Mogakolodi Ngele and Cuthbert Malajila, who weren’t guaranteed starters, but guaranteed to do the job for Hunt whenever called upon.

    5) Hunt’s the man:

    The reasons stated above would not have been possible without the guidance of Hunt.

    His no-nonsense approach and hardly-happy demeanor was exactly what his players needed in order to avoid slipping up in the title race. Of the title-chasers Wits, were the most low-key regarding their chances of lifting the trophy, and Hunt later revealed that it had in fact been a tactic to rid themselves of the pressure.

    Of the four league titles that Hunt has clinched, the 2016/17 Absa Premiership league title probably ranks right up there with the best.

    It’s fitting that Wits would end their season with an away game to Chiefs, the same outfit that they gave a guard of honour to for their title success in Hunt’s first season.

    Exactly four years later, and Wits can be expected to be greeted with a guard of honour at the FNB Stadium by Chiefs, but if anything I think Hunt deserves the guard of honour as he joins an elite club of coaches (Ted Dumitru and Gordon Igesund), having racked up four league titles, but more impressively, Hunt managed to complete this feat at so-called smaller teams.

    My advice to Safa? Ignore him at your own peril…

    *Follow Marshall Gouts on Twitter: @MarshallGouts

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