GIVEN how the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League penned out last season as FC Platinum nicked it right at the death, followed by the frenzied activities in the transfer window as clubs strengthened, there is an array of feelings from enthusiasm to optimism, as the league makes a return this weekend with 18 teams dreaming big.
BY HENRY MHARA
Its very difficult to predict how the new season will peter out, but there is no doubt the title contenders from last season including eventual champions FC Platinum, Dynamos, Ngezi Platinum and Chicken Inn, will once again be battling it out for the biggest prize in domestic football this year.
Champions FC Platinum, having been embarrassed in the Caf Champions League, where they participated as the consequence of winning the title, will want to erase those memories with a good showing on the local front.
While the clubs around them have conducted some impressive business in the transfer window, it still seems hard not to see the Zvishavane-based team in the mix, come November.
They have kept the core of the team from last season intact, with the likes of Soccer Star of the Year Rodwell Chinyengetere, first runners up Kelvin Moyo and Gift Bello, staying at the club while making some inspiring buying with such stars such as James Mukombwe, Edwin Madhananga, Rahman Kutsanzira Farai Mupasiri, and Lawrence Mhlanga joining.
It is easy to forget that their fellow platinum miners Ngezi Platinum were also one of the favourites to lift the title last season, so a third-place finish was, therefore, sub-standard for a team that had invested heavily.
Having spent big again this year on the likes of Tichaona Chipunza, Tatenda Munditi, Ghanaian Stephen Owusu, and Bernard Donovan, the club’s executive and the fans will be expecting a significant progress from coach Tonderai Ndiraya this year. In fact, the club has publicly demanded Ndiraya to deliver the trophy this season.
There is always a certain thrill when the so-called Big Three of local football, Dynamos, Highlanders and Caps United start their seasons, and they all look worth a watch.
More so, their NetOne sponsorship they will enjoy this season, will give them a huge lift.
Dynamos have once again pressed the reset button to their squad, and assembled a new-look squad with a lot of juniors included in the team. They have made some big name signings, including former right back Blessing Moyo, Raphael Manuvire, Jimmy Tigere and Marvelous Mukumba.
However, it is 19-year old midfielder Kudzai Dhemere who has been the more impressive in the pre-season, where the club won the Zimbabwe National Army Charities Trophy.
Highlanders have also gone the junior policy way, with new coach Madinda Ndlovu returning to the club’s old ways of promoting youngsters into the team. He says he wants to restore the club’s tradition and culture. Young stars such as Adrian Silla, Thabo Lunga, and Brian Banda have been the major beneficiaries of the new project while veterans Ralph Matema, Eric Mudzingwa and Simon Munawa were the chief casualties.
The juniors will need support from seniors such as Honest Moyo and Peter Muduhwa to flourish.
Caps United, on the other hand, have gone for experience. The Green Machine were arguably the busiest in the transfer market, with most of the “new signings” their former sons.
Seasoned veterans such as Method Mwanjali, Ronald Chitiyo, Chris Mverechena, Oscar Machapa, Simba Nhivi and Dennis Dauda returned.
Other new arrivals include Brian Muzondiwa, Peter Moyo, Munyaradzi Diya and Milton Ncube.
PSL opening week fixtures
Today: Bulawayo City v Chapungu (Luveve), Ngezi Platinum v Herentals (Baobab), ZPC Kariba v FC Platinum (National Sports Stadium), Nichrut FC v Mutare City (Mandava), Yadah FC v Bulawayo Chiefs (Rufaro), Chicken Inn v Dynamos (Barbourfields),
Tomorrow: Highlanders v Black Rhinos (Barbourfields), Shabanie Mine v Triangle (Mandava), Caps United v Harare City (National Sports Stadium)