South Africa need its own Bayer Leverkusen to halt Sundowns streak

28 days ago

Mamelodi Sundowns are comfortably cruising to a seventh DStv Premiership title in a row. With just a handful of games remaining in the current season, there is an opportunity for Masandawana to win the league without tasting a single defeat.

Sundowns - Figure 1
Photo Daily Maverick

Undoubtedly, the Tshwane side is the team to beat in South African soccer. They have now held this title for several years. Their perennial dominance in the league has regularly irked the supporters of opposition teams – particularly those of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

Nevertheless, the 15 teams that have been left to lap up the crumbs for the past six seasons that Sundowns have clinched the title can learn a thing or two from German outfit Bayer Leverkusen.

Never losing

Leverkusen, coached by former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso, recently halted Bayern’s perennial dominance of the German Bundesliga by winning the 2023/2024 league title.

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso shows the supporters the Meisterschale after the Bundesliga match between Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen at the Bay Arena on 14 April in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo: ANP via Getty Images)

Prior to this victory by Leverkusen – which marks their first Bundesliga title in a 120-year existence – Bayern had won the German league 11 consecutive times from 2013 to 2023.

Before that dominant streak by the Bavarians, Borussia Dortmund won the league title two times on the trot under the guidance of Jürgen Klopp. Now under Alonso, Leverkusen has added its name to a list of exclusive Bundesliga winners, dominated by Bayern (with 33 national titles).

Sundowns - Figure 2
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Leverkusen won this season’s title in style. They have already broken the German club record for not tasting defeat in consecutive matches. It was previously held by Bayern, who went for 32 games without loss in all competitions between 2020 and 2021.

Victor Boniface (right) celebrates scoring with Leverkusen teammate Nathan Tella during the Bundesliga match against Werder. (Photo; Mika Volkmann / Getty Images)

Leverkusen are at just over 40 games undefeated as things stand. They remain the only team yet to suffer a loss in Europe’s top five leagues. Their last defeat was on 27 May 2023.

This maiden Bundesliga success also snapped a 31-year major trophy drought for Leverkusen. The team’s last taste of silverware came in 1993 when they triumphed in the German Cup.

Alonso and his men are still in line for a historic treble. They are in the final of this season’s German Cup where they are poised to tackle Kaiserslautern. They are also on the cusp of qualifying for the Europa League semifinals.

“We wanted to play games with a good mentality this season and the players quickly started working well together. After the first few matches we saw this team can play really good football,” said Alonso, who joined a relegation-threatened Leverkusen in 2022.

Sundowns - Figure 3
Photo Daily Maverick

“But to achieve this in such a way was a top performance. Finally, it is an honour to say that Leverkusen are champions. It is totally deserved for the team, fans and the club,” the former Spain midfielder said.

Inspirational

That Alonso’s charges have managed to topple the Bayern dynasty in German football with about three times less the financial power and general appeal of the Bavarians is commendable.

It will undoubtedly inspire clubs in leagues annually dominated by a single team, one of those being the South African Premiership.

The last time a team that are not Sundowns was crowned the champions of South African men’s club soccer was in 2016/2017. During that campaign, Gavin Hunt guided Bidvest Wits to the prestigious crown, making the now non-existent Wits the last team to stop Sundowns winning the league.

Before that anomaly, when Wits won their maiden league title, Kaizer Chiefs and Sundowns had exchanged places at the summit.

Chiefs won it in 2013, with Sundowns triumphing the following year. Then Amakhosi clinched it again in 2015 (the team’s last major trophy) before Sundowns reclaimed it during the subsequent season with Wits entering the equation thereafter.

Sundowns - Figure 4
Photo Daily Maverick

Several teams in South Africa’s topflight have since tried and failed to usurp Sundowns’ sensational run without success.

Could Orlando Pirates become the Leverkusen of SA? (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

On paper, the one South African side that could challenge Sundowns are Orlando Pirates. However, even they have consistently failed in this regard despite the player quality and depth that they possess and the exciting soccer that the team plays.

Last season they finished as runners-up to the mighty Masandawana, though a mammoth 16 points behind the champions at the end of the season.

Spanish mentor José Riveiro, who had predominantly coached in Finland before arriving at Pirates in 2022, was tasked with steering the Sea Robbers to their first league title since 2012.

So far, he is yet to succeed. This in spite of winning three domestic knockout cup titles during his time in South Africa. Whereas Sundowns are the epitome of consistency, Pirates are the opposite. The same can be said for the other sides hoping to knock out the Tshwane side one day.

Leverkusen have shown that even with less money and players who are not as high profile as those of Bayern, they can conquer. South African soccer needs its own Leverkusen to rejuvenate waning interest in the Premiership. DM

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