JOHANNESBURG – Beleaguered Bidvest Wits must banish their demons before they run out for their Nedbank Cup semi-final against Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday evening.
Anything less will be akin to shooting themselves in the foot ahead of the 7.15pm kick-off at Orlando Stadium.
A few weeks ago, players and coaching staff at Wits were plunged abruptly into a state of anger and abandonment. They were shocked by media reports which informed that the 99-year-old club had been sold to GladAfrica Championship side Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila.
The sale was without warning, and earlier this week the lingering sense of hopelessness in the ranks of the players raised prospects of a strike.
Coach Gavin Hunt has been told in no uncertain terms that he is “too expensive” by the new owners and he too will now be looking his demons squarely in the eye as he ponders his work options for next season.
In just under two decades, Hunt ranks as one of the most successful PSL coaches and his tactical acumen has ever so often transformed a bunch of ordinary players into a championship-winning squad. He won the Premiership title four times with unfashionable clubs like SuperSport United and Wits. He has also bagged a slew of Cup titles.
All this points to the fact that this week Hunt faces a greater test off the field than on the field. He may not have been faced with a dilemma like this before, but he has the insight to know the immediate task at hand is to prevent a mental meltdown.
Hunt has been low key in the run-up to Saturday’s showdown, but he is counting on the players’ professionalism to provide them with a steely resolve to mount a championship challenge.
“It is important for us as professionals to finish as professionals and do a proper job,” said Hunt. “Let us treat the game with respect. It will be difficult because we have so much to deal with.
“We will show professionalism until the end.
“It is not only the physical but also psychological issues we have to deal with.”
Sundowns, their opponents, have sensed the turmoil in the camp and fear that they will be up against “a wounded lion” on Saturday. Pitso Mosimane, the Sundowns coach, feels Wits may be targeting the Nedbank Cup to go out in a blaze of glory.
“We have a big game against Wits and if you listen to their statements they’re saying that they want to go out in style,” said Mosimane.
“Wits’ players and coaches have a lot of incentives to win the cup and that’s why they’ve prioritised the Nedbank Cup.
“Over the last few days, they have only spoken about the Cup. It gives me an indication that the league is not a priority,” he added. “I am not talking on their behalf but just talking about what they have said.”
Mosimane expects Wits will trade heavily on the strong character in their ranks.
“I know the character of the coach (Hunt) and the character of the team,” said Mosimane. “I know how difficult it will be, and against this background, I will be preparing my team.”