A team with financial resources can afford to buy most players in their leagues; this is evident the world over. Yet, history is also full of teams with resources (for example QPR) who struggled to build a successful team, despite buying a lot of superstars in one go (warning Newcastle!). The thing is this, even if you have the resources, buying players is one thing. But building a successful team is an altogether different task. That is one area that Sundowns seem to be excelling in, successfully transitioning players out of a side while maintaining the quality of their side. We’ve used two age utility matrices (one year apart) to try and prove that:
- Younger players are being given more responsibility at Sundowns
- The club is successful in transitioning from stalwarts to youngsters and new signings
- This successful transition could be a recipe for further domination
Older Players Departing
The departure of experienced players like Hlompho Kekana, Anthony Laffor, Tebogo Langerman, Tiyani Mabauna in one transfer window would put a strain on any team. These are players who have won more than 40 trophies between them, most of them coming while at Sundowns. The world of football is full of examples of clubs that struggle to transition from one successful generation to another without a blip (sometimes never to be a big club again).
Consider Sundowns’ squad at the end of the 2019/20 season. The Age Utility matrix from 2019/20 shows how Sundowns’ squad was used in that title-winning Covid-disrupted campaign.
It shows a strong (though not overwhelming) reliance on players like Themba Zwane, Hlompho Kekana, Gaston Sirino, Andile Jali and Langerman (the top right quadrant – players above the average age, playing above average minutes). A lot has changed since then – Pitso Mosimane has left the club after eight-plus years and a new coaching set-up has taken – that transition alone would be a source of pain for many clubs. But most importantly, the profile of the squad usage seems to be changing.
Younger Players Seeing More Game-Time
The matrix from the current season gives the same information – how much players have been utilised this season, relative to their ages. Only two years later, younger players seem to be getting more responsibility and a higher proportion of minutes. Admittedly, the season is still early.
Players like De Reuck (aged 25) and Coetzee (24) are in the Top 5 for minutes played by Sundowns. What we also see is that for outfield players, Themba Zwane and Andile Jali are the only players aged 30+ that are seeing significant game time (above average). Players Under the age of 30 are in the majority for minutes played. In addition, the average age of used players has seemingly gone down from about 29 years to roughly 27 and a half years.
Successful Transitions On And Off The Field
It’s not just age, the new signings brought in over the last two years are proving to be the key players. Three of the top four players for minutes this season were not at Sundowns in the 2019/20 season. De Reuck was at Maritzburg, Shalulile was at Highlands Park, while Grant Kekana was at Supersport. Alongside Rivaldo Coetzee, they are becoming part of a spine that could play together and dominate the league for a few more years.
It must be a daunting prospect for the rest of the league, but it is full of many lessons.