Mokwena offers insight into the reasons behind the signing of the players they have added to the squad

Mahlatse Mphahlele Sports reporter
Rulani Mokwena, co-coach of Mamelodi Sundowns.
Rulani Mokwena, co-coach of Mamelodi Sundowns.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix/Gallo Images

Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Rulani Mokwena has given a detailed explanation on the thinking that went into the decision to acquire the players the club signed in the last few days.

The Brazilians‚ who are on their pre-season camp at University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre‚ have bolstered their squad with the signing of Pavol Šafranko from Romanian Liga 1 top-flight side Sepsi OSK Sf‚ Divine Lunga from Golden Arrows‚ Grant Kekana from SuperSport United and attacking winger Neo Maema from Bloemfontein Celtic.

Mokwena said the Sundowns technical team went through a rigorous process of video and data analysis before finally deciding on the four players they added to the championship-winning squad.

“For the recruitment‚ we did a lot of analysis with video footage‚ but also with the assistance of data in trying to measure what we have from a numbers perspective‚" he said.

"We also had to look at what do we have‚ and what we need in relation to our playing style. We profiled them thoroughly so that they are able to help us with regards to how we want to play. It was also about trying to solve particular aspects of our team.”

On the reasons behind the decision to lure the highly promising 25-year-old Maema to Chloorkop‚ Mokwena said they wanted a left-footed winger to complement Lyle Lakay and Aubrey Modiba.

“We knew that with all the wingers that we have in the team‚ Neo allows us to have a left-footed winger. People will say it doesn’t sound like a detail that is big enough or worthy enough to go into the market.

“But the reality is that when you look at our squad‚ a lot of our left-footed players are players who can develop the game like Ricardo Nascimento‚ Musa Lebusa‚ Lyle Lakay and Aubrey Modiba.

“The scarce resource of a winger with the right profile is something that you don’t find in the local market‚ so the availability of Neo helped us to be able to recruit a left-footed winger with age still on his side‚ and enormous potential to develop and become better.

“The boy has a degree in chemistry.

"He is a smart‚ we have done our own background check on him and that also covers the other social and personality traits that we look for in Sundowns players‚” said Mokwena on Maema.

With regard to the 26-year-old Šafranko from Slovakia‚ Mokwena said he was signed because he is going to offer them something different on the attack.

“He is somebody who can help us with different aspects of the game and his age is something that is important for us because we want to cut down the average age of our squad. We are trying to recruit players that are younger because it is very important that big teams have succession plans.

“He also brings technical and tactical qualities that we may not have had in our striker. He has the ability to be the focal point and be able to the link up play in and around the box when you play against teams that reinforce the defence.”

Mokwena said 28-year-old Kekana brings versatility to the team as he is comfortable in various positions in the rearguard.

“We all know his leadership qualities are extremely important‚ he is also a very intelligent boy with a very good educational background‚" he continued.

"He also brings a lot of versatility because he is able to play left-back‚ right-back and centre-half‚ which is very important.

“In these Covid-19 times‚ you need players that are able to slot in at various positions and I have a feeling that he can play as a defensive midfielder. He has a lot of very good qualities and he comes to the group with a lot of possibilities to play an important role for us‚ and not just on the field but also in the change room.”

Turning his attention to 26-year-old Lunga‚ Mokwena said his continental experience with the Zimbabwean national team stood him in good stead and this will come in handy during the Champions League.

“He is also the one who ticks a lot of boxes because he is versatile as he can play left centre-half‚ left-back. He has possibilities of getting into the final third‚ where his numbers are very good‚ and he has the ability to create scoring opportunities from wide areas.

“His age is good in relation to longevity and his other quality is his ability on dead-ball situations. His height is important in Africa because there you have to be aggressive in the air and on dead-ball situations.

“We are fortunate that he is an international for Zimbabwe‚ he’s got World Cup qualifiers experience and he’s got the experience of playing Afcon qualifiers in games of consequence.

“Probably his best game was against Egypt where he put Mohamed Salah in his pocket. Those games helped us to profile him and he has the ability to perform in big [matches].”