This season’s Premier Soccer League could see the tightest title race in years, with multiple clubs suitably equipped to challenge at the right end of the table. As PSL chairman Irvin Khoza grins: “There is no doubt that the Premiership has become a competitive league that is guaranteed to go to a photo finish season after season. In fact, in the last five years the Premiership was decided in the final matches played simultaneously under circumstances where duplicate trophies and helicopters were held on ‘stand by’.” With 10 million rand at stake for the winners this time around, that will not change in 2012-13.

Having won every PSL title between 2007-08 and 2009-10, SuperSport United dramatically fell from grace in 2010-11, finishing in seventh place – twenty points adrift of the top two. They recovered last season, however, finishing third, and have improved a solid squad that contains Zambian African Cup of Nations-winning pair Davies Nkausu and Clifford Mulenga – as well as former Wolfsburg forward Mame Niang – with the acquisitions of South Africa international George Maluleka and experienced midfielder Mark Haskins.

Last season’s champions Orlando Pirates, one of the country’s traditional “big two” along with Johannesburg rivals Kaizer Chiefs, will be hoping to make it three in a row, having also won the 2010-11 PSL.  A quiet transfer window has seen Pirates replace 36-cap South Africa international Benson Mhlongo with the younger Mpho Makola. Peruvian coach Augusto Palacios’ lack of signings suggests the club are confident of retaining their title.

Returning home… South Africa’s most-capped player, Aaron Mokoena

Despite having failed to win the league since 2004-05, slipping to fifth last season, Kaizer Chiefs seem more eager to offload players than bring new faces to Soccer City. The country’s most popular club have allowed Zimbabwe defender Thomas Sweswe to join Bidvest Wits and sold his compatriot Abbas Amidu to join relegation-battlers Black Leopards. Defender Eric Mathoho, purchased from Bloemfontein Celtic for a sizeable fee, represents Chiefs’ only major signing. The Glamour Boys have also replaced caretaker coach Ace Khuse with Scotsman and former Finland, South Africa and England under-19 boss Stuart Baxter. Despite his vast experience – with over 25 years in management – Baxter will find winning the PSL this season one of the hardest tasks he has faced.

Having narrowly avoided relegation the previous season, few expected Moroka Swallows to challenge for the title in 2011-12. However, led by the experienced Gordon Igesund, the Soweto-based side stormed to second place, finishing just two points shy of champions Orlando Pirates. With Igesund lured away by the South African national team, and five senior players leaving the club, Swallows will struggle to emulate last season’s performance in 2012-13. The Birds have brought in two new faces, however, namely Mamelodi defender James Mayinga and Pirates midfielder Bennet Chenene, and they retain last season’s top-scorer Siyabonga Nomvethe.

With three top-four finishes in as many seasons, Mamelodi Sundowns will be aiming to finally retake the league title that has evaded them  since 2006-07. With former Dutch midfielder Johan Neeskens – a veteran of two World Cup finals during his playing days – at the helm, Mamelodi will be in with a shot this term. Neeskens has shored up the defence by buying compatriot Alje Schut from Utrecht, and has also signed players from the Greek and Brazilian leagues.

A host of clubs –  including Free State Stars, Bloemfontein Celtic, Platinum Stars, Ajax Cape Town and AmaZulu – will battle to occupy the remaining top-half places, while last season’s strugglers Bidvest Wits could also compete after signing former Portsmouth and South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena, who returns home after 13 years abroad.

Survival will be the name of the game for Maritzburg United, Black Leopards, Golden Arrows and promoted sides Tuks FC and Chippa United – both of whom are in the top-flight for the first time. Chippa’s case has not been helped by an enforced move to a new stadium (their ground of choice was deemed not up to PSL standards) and a change of coaches – promotion-winning boss Roger Sikhakane replaced by former schoolteacher Manqoba Mngqithi.

 

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