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The Sky is the Limit - but how do they reach it?


Mamelodi Sundowns, South Africa's PSL champions for the last 5 years, have the very public ambition of becoming the biggest club in Africa. What this means from a non-sporting point of view is very much up for discussion and unlikely to be settled anytime soon. However, what we at Four Nations Football Consulting can do is to measure Sundowns to Africa's best on the field.


Winning South Africa's PSL hasn't proved a difficult task for Sundowns, with them being crowned champions in each of the last 5 seasons. However, ff Mamelodi Sundowns are to be crowned the biggest team in Africa one would assume that they would have to win the CAF Champions League and subsequently play on the World stage at the FIFA Club World Cup. This is how they have performed in Africa's elite club competition over the last 4 years:

2021/22 - Quarter-final (lost to Petro Atletico)

2020/21 - Quarter-final (lost to Al Ahly)

2019/20 - Quarter-final (lost to Al Ahly)

2018/19 - Semi-final (lost to Wydad)


It is clear that Sundowns have the capability of reaching the knockout stages of the CAF Champions League with ease but once they enter the knockout stages they seem to falter. This is not surprising as we all know the nature of football and especially knockout football is such that apart from having a great team, a lot of luck is also needed. As mentioned in our post last week, Wydad (2021/22 CAF Champions League winners) only had a 1% chance of winning based on their performances - they were extremely lucky! If skill and luck determine who progresses in knockout football, what can Sundowns do to improve their chances of winning the Champions League?

  1. Improve their team to a level where they have a better chance of winning each match as opposed to not winning (possible); or

  2. Improve their luck (impossible)



So if Sundowns wanted to improve their team to a level where they have a better chance of winning each match as opposed to not winning we need to start from the beginning... who is currently preventing Sundowns from being the best team in Africa? We've crunched the numbers using our Team Strength Rating Tool, which uses performances of teams from different leagues and continental tournaments to assign attacking and defending ratings to teams to determine their relative strength. This is how our Tool rates the top 8 teams in Africa for the 2021/22 season:



Essentially the table above tells us that Sundowns are currently 0.45 goal difference per game (goals scored - goals conceded) away from the best team in Africa, Al Ahly. This is calculated by deducting Sundowns' overall rating of 0.5 (which indicates by how many goals each team would win the average game in the CAF Champions League) from Al Ahly's overall rating of 0.94 and adding .01. We can confirm that the current level of Al Ahly (2 times CAF Champions League winners in the last 3 years) is very close to the overall level of the best team in Africa in previous years.


Now that we know what the level is that Sundowns need to reach to be the best team in Africa, how do we go about finding the required 0.45 goal difference per game? First, let's analyse their current squad using our Recruitment Tool. Here we have Sundowns' XI that played the most PSL minutes last season:



Players' final scores indicate their contribution to their team from an attacking and defensive perspective relative to other players in their position in the PSL (as calculated by our Recruitment Tool's methodology and algorithms). A Final Score above 0 means a player has contributed more than an average PSL player in his position would have contributed. It is quite surprising that two of Sundowns' midfielders rank below average for last season (Jali & Mkhulise).


This is how the back-up players (based on minutes played) from Sundowns rank:



With football being an O-ring sport (Soccernomics by Stefan Szymanski) the obvious strategy would be to replace the weakest links in their starting XI (that plays most minutes), thus Jali & Mkhulise and preferably have them in the back-up list; probably in place of Coetzee and Domingo.


Before looking for the required 0.45 goal difference per game that Sundowns need to exceed the current level of Al Ahly, it's important to note that the 0.45 goal difference per game is 0.45 goal difference calculated using teams from Africa's top competitions (league and knockout). Therefore when scouting players that could make up the 0.45 an adjustment needs to be made to their stats, depending on which league they played in during last season. For instance, Peter Shalulile's 23 PSL goals last season translates roughly to the same amount in Egypt, as the defence strengths in these countries are similar. However, Moroccan teams are rated higher in defence and Shalulile would only be expected to score 21 in a similar season in Morocco. This may seem insignificant but the difference becomes much larger when scouting in countries such as Zambia, where goals are twice as easy to come by when compared to the PSL.


These are the signings that Sundowns have made this summer so far:

  • Sipho Mbule - from SuperSport United

  • Ronwen Williams - from SuperSport United

  • Abdelmounaim Boutouil - SSC Mohameddia (spent last season on loan at Raja Casablanca in Morocco)



The addition of these 3 players and the demotion of 3 squad players because of it adds approximately 0.42 goal difference per game to their squad. That leaves them just 0.03 goal difference per game away from the level of Al Ahly.


There have also been rumours that Sundowns are close to agreeing a R51m deal for 23 year-old Torque attacking midfielder, Marcelo Allende. Allende is returning an expected goal or assist of 0.4 per 90 in the Uruguayan Primera Division. Should he replace Haashim Domingo in the Sundowns squad then they could well have reached the 0.45 goal difference required.


The big question now is, can Mamelodi Sundowns' squad perform at the level they need to and have a slice of luck to win it all next season? They've certainly got the quality on the pitch to do it.

*If your club wants an assessment as we've made on Mamelodi Sundowns above then contact us at info@fournations.football or visit our website for more information on the recruitment tool and other services we provide (fournations.football)