Expectations high as Sundowns keep their eye on all prizes

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane directs his team from the sidelines Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Once again Mamelodi Sundowns go into a new season with eyes on multiple prizes and their focus pulled in different directions, having to execute a difficult tightrope walk in search of honours.

For a change, they have been able to have a brief break after annexing the last Premier Soccer League title, but as the new domestic season starts already have competitive practice under their belt as they labour through the group stages of the CAF Champions League.

This is the fourth year in a row that they actively chase league and cup glory in the PSL, plus go after the top prize on the continent, and they will be back at it again next year, now that the timings for the Champions League have been changed.

It is a Herculean task -- one which Sundowns have gamely chased, but are yet to achieve. The double that is. They did win the Champions League in 2016, and have won three league titles in the last five years.

Coach Pitso Mosimane is chasing a fourth league title, which will equal the South African record and add his name to the pantheon of top coaches through a half-century of professional soccer in South Africa.

But while he will enjoy that accolade, there is no doubting his ambition is to focus on a bigger prize as he has so frequently stated in the past, and the Champions League is top priority.

Success in 2016 held out the promises of the building of a dynasty. Sundowns' riches makes them one of the few clubs who can think -- indeed plan -- in that way.

They are the African equivalent of Chelsea or Manchester City, or even a Paris St Germain. That is not to suggest that they match the Gulf oil money or Russian oligarch spending that flows in the top European teams, but in comparison to their contemporaries, they have unrivalled resources.

Taking full advantage of the deep pockets of billionaire mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, Mosimane first set out to have three top quality players for each position with the idea that he would rotate them round as Sundowns competed for honours across all fronts.

The coach bought like a hasty shopper with a trolley in a supermarket aisle.

It did not work out well as the realization that rotation was full of perils, a large squad full of egos difficult to manage, and that consistency was key, was quickly brought home.

Then, while still keeping up the spendthrift outlay, Mosimane changed and stuck to tried and tested players through months of vigorous campaigning in the Champions League and on the domestic front.

That proved the recipe for winning the 2016 Champions League, but also ensured burnout, and last year's defence of the continental title spluttered out in the quarter-finals.

Sundowns continue to boast an impressive squad, but it comes not from clever buying, but rather wholesale purchasing.

Many players have been quickly discarded after proving not up to scratch. Ivorian striker Yannick Zakri, Burundi forward Fiston Abdul Razak, Zimbabwean Cuthbert Malajila, classy Botswana midfielder Mogokolodi Ngele and Algerian fullback Fares Haschi are all examples of players who have arrived to rave reviews from the coach, yet quickly proven surplus to requirements.

Others did not even get a look in -- Zambia defender Hichane Himonde, Zimbabwean dribbler Kudakwashi Mahachi or winger Uzenyi Ejike, who was in Nigeria's 2014 World Cup squad, never made it onto the pitch.

Mosimane has not been shy to take a punt on a player, and again this season has signed several who might not even make registration.

Guinea Bissau winger Tony Silva, who made an impression at the last African Nations Cup finals in Gabon, and nippy Mozambique striker Luis Missiquone, could fall outside the quota of foreigners that South African clubs are allowed per season.

But Mosimane has already registered Venezuelan striker Jose Ali Meza, previously at Oriente Petrolero of Bolivia, who the club hope will become the prolific goalscorer they are missing.

Mosimane chased New Zealand international Jeremy Brockie for two years before finally landing him, only to quickly bench him when the goals did arrive. He is still under a burden of not having scored a competitive goal for the club six months since his arrival.

Sundowns kick off the season with a testing home assignment against Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday, and then embark on a testing programme of fixtures which includes a trip in the next fortnight to Morocco, and a key home game in the Champions League against Horoya of Guinea, which they must win if they are to advance to the last eight.

It is nothing they are not used to, but it remains a test of character and effective management.

Sundowns also have to do without Percy Tau, now at Brighton and Hove Albion, who was a definite X-factor in the last campaign. His absence could be more missed than Mosimane and his new signings might have expected.