Stellies forced to beef up squad for maiden CAF foray

Stellenbosch finished an impressive third in the DStv Premiership this season and won the Carling KO. | BackpagePix

Stellenbosch finished an impressive third in the DStv Premiership this season and won the Carling KO. | BackpagePix

Published May 28, 2024



Coach Steve Barker has sent a stern warning to the Stellenbosch FC bigwigs ahead of next season’s foray into Africa.

After Stellenbosch’s unexpected demise against Richards Bay on Saturday, Barker pointed to the squad’s lack of depth that had crippled the team. Stellenbosch, who had gone on a 25-match unbeaten Premiership streak at one stage this season, failed to win any of their final four matches.

As a result of this lapse, Stellenbosch surrendered their CAF Champions League slot to Orlando Pirates. Both teams finished the season with 50 points but Pirates had a better goal difference.

The Stellenbosch starting XI will have to be strengthened in the off-season, if they are to successfully campaign in the CAF Confederation Cup. | BackpagePix

By Saturday, Stellenbosch’s paper-thin squad had been run into the ground. Apart from Premiership matches, the team played cup games and Barker, with limited player resources, used the same players from one match to the next.

Whereas Stellenbosch have done lucrative business in the past few transfer markets because of several players excelling in the Premiership, they may have to reverse the trend because of CAF commitments next season.

Instead, Stellenbosch will be buying new players to build up a huge squad that can cope with the combined demands of the CAF Confederation Cup and domestic competition.

Stellenbosch said they have taken advice from Mamelodi Sundowns on the subject of the depth of the squad. They would have learnt that they should have the capacity to field different teams when Confed Cup matches and domestic matches are played in the same week.

Stellenbosch would have noted what happened to Sundowns over the weekend when they went down to an average Cape Town City. The massive burden of playing continental and domestic matches every week for several months has sapped the energy out of the players. This is despite Sundowns having far and away the biggest squad in the country.

There is also the testing challenge of coaches and technical staff knowing how to cope with the demands of playing every four days, especially if the club has the luxury of fielding different teams from one match to the next.

Losing out of the CAF Champions League slot may be a blessing in disguise. The Champions League includes the strongest teams in Africa.

Most of these clubs are vastly experienced in playing continental competitions and Stellenbosch could be paying a high price for their inexperience in the Champions League.

In the lower-tier Confed Cup competition, most of the clubs are the third- and fourth- strongest in their country’s domestic leagues. This will avoid matches against serial Champions League contenders like Sundowns, Al Ahly, Esperance de Tunis and TP Mazembe.

Two seasons ago, the lowly Marumo Gallants – against all odds – reached the semi-finals of the Confed Cup. The South Africans, who were languishing at the foot of the DStv Premiership table throughout the season, overcame one obstacle after the other on their travels in Africa.

There is so much gamesmanship in African football because host clubs want to make their travel experience as uncomfortable as possible, but Stellenbosch will be well-prepared for these encounters.