Stellies still have plenty to shout about

SALIM Magoola of Richards Bay thwarts a dangerous Stellenbosch attack during their clash at King Zwelithini Stadium. BackpagePix

SALIM Magoola of Richards Bay thwarts a dangerous Stellenbosch attack during their clash at King Zwelithini Stadium. BackpagePix

Published May 27, 2024


Smiso Msomi

STELLENBOSCH FC coach Steve Barker has found consolation in his side’s nominations for numerous Premier Soccer League (PSL) awards.

Stellies secured seven nominations with the most notable being Barker’s inclusion in the Coach of the Year top three as well as Iqraam Rayners’ nomination for Footballer of the Season.

Having missed out on the opportunity to play in the CAF Champions League next season, Barker believes that he and his group of players have a lot of positivity to celebrate.

“We’ve had an incredible season and you see with the PSL awards, while we’re punching above our weight and to finish level on points with a team like (Orlando) Pirates and all the resources they’ve put into that team, we have to be proud,” he said.

Barker’s men were pipped to second place by Pirates, who secured a valuable point against SuperSport United, and the Winelands side dropped to third in the Premiership standings, which means they’ll play in the CAF Confederation Cup next season.

The Western Cape outfit undoubtedly had their best season since their inception in 2016 as they strung together an impressive 25-game unbeaten run to place themselves in the driving seat to compete among the continent’s elite clubs.

They also collected their first top-flight major trophy as they lifted the 2023 Carling Knockout Cup in December.

However, their failure to see out what seemed to be an even better season saw questions posed to Barker at the conclusion of their campaign on Saturday.

The experienced mentor said in Umlazi that his team had learnt valuable lessons, the biggest being the importance of building quality in depth.

“It’s four games for us if you include the draw against AmaZulu, so one point from the last 12 available is not going to help you achieve your targets. But I think it’s a simple fact, we have a very thin squad in terms of numbers,” he said.

“I think after you go on such a long unbeaten run and then you lose it, we had two exhausting games against (Mamelodi) Sundowns in both the cup and the league. Our worst game was probably against (Moroka) Swallows and that was the killer blow.

“I think fatigue, both mental and physical, placed a lot of strain on the players. It is not a position we are used to being in, it’s a different type of pressure, good pressure, and one that we must embrace.”

Stellies have already begun preparations for the second tier of continental club competition as a means to equip themselves adequately for what they expect will be a daunting 2024/25 campaign.

IQRAAM Rayners of Stellenbosch is dispossessed by Lwandile Mabuya and Thabani Dube of Richards Bay. BackpagePix

Despite the disappointing end to their season, Barker refused to be the facilitator of a pity party for his young group.

The 56-year-old coach waved away any suggestions that his side would’ve preferred facing lower-tier opposition on the continent, before expressing his immense pride for what Stellenbosch had achieved as an organisation.

“We would love to play among the elite, but as a club we’ve won the Diski Challenge, we have a cup and are heading for Africa, (so) we can’t allow four games to define our season,” he stated.

“Once we get over this result, we’ve got to look back at what we’ve achieved and should we find ourselves in a similar position to the one we were in this final month, I think the lessons we’ve learnt this time around should guide us to how we deal with them next time.”

With Stellenbosch’s season wrapped up, a few of their players will hope to stay in action in the coming weeks after being named in Bafana Bafana’s provisional squad for the upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

The likes of Jayden Adams, Deano van Rooyen, Devin Titus, Thabo Moloisane and Rayners will be holding their breath ahead of the final squad announcement.