Champions-in-waiting or sheer pretenders? The agonising meltdown of Bosso Brito’s Eleven

Bruce Ndlovu 

WHEN the story of the 2023 Premier League season is finally written, it will perhaps be noted that the three weeks between the end of August and the start of September may be the point in the tale where the mettle of Highlanders as a true contender for the title was truly tested.

As the last of the winds of a bitterly cold winter blew across the country, ushering the arrival of spring, they may have also swept away Bosso’s cloak of invincibility, revealing weaknesses that some sharp-eyed analysts had predicted would be exposed at some point in the title race. 

Astute observers of the local game, have always maintained that the clashes against FC Platinum, the reigning champions, Chicken Inn, now a perennial contender for the title and Dynamos, Bosso’s old foes, would be the true test of Amahlolanyama’s credentials. 

If Bosso had passed through that treacherous triple-threat unscathed, all indications could be pointing to the black and white shirted boys’ bright chances of lifting the long-awaited league trophy. 

As has now been established, this was not to be. 

As Chazunguza swept into Barbourfields on Sunday, few among the Highlanders faithful that poured into the iconic stadium in their thousands, had full confidence that Baltemar Brito’s charges would maintain the club’s unbeaten run against its bitter rivals. 

After setbacks against Chicken and FC Platinum, many knew that victory against DeMbare rested on nothing more than a hope and a prayer. These  setbacks were always coming but only a foolishly brave prophet of doom would have said this a few weeks ago when euphoria had gripped Bosso fans after their unbeaten run. 

The riot police’s canisters exploded on the streets of Mzilikazi suburb as police battled to contain the violence. Before violence broke out from the Soweto stand, Dynamos were playing champagne football, spraying the ball across every inch of the Barbourfields Stadium turf and looking like the home-side, which on paper they were. 

It was a lion-hearted display from DeMbare, who seem to be rediscovering their glamour just as the crucial season run-in looms. Bosso, on the other hand, played like tamed felines, exemplified by their long-time number one, Ariel Sibanda, who seems to be finally losing his cat-like reflexes. While none of the goals conceded were his fault, in general he does not seem like the man capable of pulling off the impossible anymore. 

Ugly scenes marked the end of what had been a lively match but as the tear gas smoke wafted across BF, clear-eyed followers of the country’s oldest team would tell you that this loss was a long time coming. 

Since the start of the season, Brito’s credentials as Jose Mourinho’s former assistant have been a source of pride, a bragging right of sorts for Bosso fans and rightfully so. 

If you had told Bosso fans at the start of the season that their team was going to be at the top after 21 games, they were going to take it without a second’s hesitation. Bosso appears a well-drilled side with clear patterns and principles of play, all built on the foundation of a rock-solid defence. Brito is clearly a tactician who, judging by their celebrations when they score, is also highly appreciated by his players. 

However, as a disciple of Mourinho, it is clear where his strengths lie. When Mourinho was in charge of Chelsea, the term “Parking the bus” was first coined, as the Portuguese gaffer made it a habit to thwart and repel Europe’s most vaunted attacks, particularly at Stamford Bridge. 

Similarly, throughout this season, an impervious defence has been Bosso’s bedrock, soaking up waves of attacks with ease before poaching a winning goal of their own. 1-0 to Bosso has become a familiar scoreline throughout 2023 and in most matches, opposition teams have not seriously threated Bosso’s goal during 90 minutes of action. 

Since it became clear that Bosso would challenge for the title, the defence has stood out, with Mbongeni Ndlovu and Peter Muduhwa in particular reigning supreme as the crown jewels in that backline. ‘Attack wins you games and defence wins you titles’ that great Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson once remarked. Brito has been faithful to this mantra and the smiles on the faces of Bosso fans, week after week suggest that this is working. 

However, when Brito’s former boss blitzed the English premiership, swatting aside Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger to win back-to-back titles, his side’s impenetrable defence was backed up by an equally frightfully efficient frontline. 

The likes of Didier Drogba, Ajen Robben, Joe Cole and even Frank Lampard from midfield made sure that the hard work of the man at the back was rewarded with goals. Few mistakes went unpunished when such predators were on the prowl. 

For Bosso, the scenario, is different. The team does not create a lot of chances, with the few that happen to land on the feet of its confidence-starved attackers usually ending up on the stands or in the hands of grateful goalkeepers. While so organised at the back, upfront, Bosso seems to lack ideas, with McKinnon Mushore being the bright spark, providing rare moments of inspirations and flair in the final third. 

That has been the story of Bosso’s season so far- lions when defending their own goal but lambs when facing the opposition goal. Perhaps it speaks to the quality of this PSL campaign that a side with 16 goals in 21 matches sat comfortably at the top of the table for so long. 

For Bosso fans, the last few matches have become their worst nightmare. The goals, which were coming in drips anyways, have now completely dried up while the boys at the back are not as watertight as they were at the beginning of the season. 

It would be harsh to blame Bosso’s turn in fortunes on Brito. During the mid-season break, the Portuguese gaffer made it clear that his side needed attacking reinforcements. During those heady days when Bosso was unbeaten and top of the pops, he outlined his vision, pointing out how Obriel Chirinda could slot in perfectly into his side, serving as the ideal tip of the spear as Bosso readied itself for a final assault on the league. 

“Obriel Chirinda is one of the many players that we put pressure on. It is not now that we made that pressure even last season, we wanted him because he is one player that we like, is one player who can fit into our game giving us a different dimension that we don’t have in our game,” said Brito.

The Portuguese gaffer added: “In the beginning of this month, we were close to bringing him but some bad information emerged. Whether it’s true or not we don’t know. The leaders in the club listened to these people and they did not bring the player.”

But with things looking up, his pleas, fell on deaf ears and Bosso did not bring in a proven goal-scorer to augment the attack. Instead, he was given, Thabo Zikode Khumalo, who is yet to kick a ball  at Emagumeni. Besides his links to Ndebele royalty, a large and unlikely to be answered question mark lingers over his football abilities.

Despite three consecutive weeks of disappointment, the league title race is not yet lost for Bosso. True champions are defined by how they bounce back after setback and it is easy to forget that even during Bosso’s run of unprecedented success at the turn of the century, there were weeks when things looked bleak for teams that were stacked with players that we call legends today. 

However, as the season heads towards its climax, one cannot shake the feeling that another Bosso coach has been hung out dry. If things do not go according to plan and the hopes of Highlanders fans are shattered, perhaps the blame should not go to the bow-legged Portuguese gaffer or his players, but to those in the boardroom who failed to show ambition in the transfer market, particularly at a time when the club appears to be financially healthy.

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