High hopes for Old Mutual Academy

Old Mutual captain Brooklyn Poggenpoel at the Bayhill Premier Cup launch event last month.

This year’s Bayhill under-19 premier cup kicked off at Erica Park in Belhar yesterday and Pinelands-based Old Mutual Academy is one of the sides that plan to go all the way in the six day-long tournament.

The side has been in fine form recently. They qualified for this year’s tournament in a spectacular fashion, collecting maximum points in the last round of qualifiers, in Mitchell’s Plain last month.

They found themselves in Group E alongside Grassy Park, Beaufort West’s FC Barcelona and FC Manenberg.

Playing an exciting brand of football, Mutual were ruthless in their approach, winning all three matches.

They scored six goals, with an average of two goals a game, without conceding, making them the most successful side in this round of qualifiers.

They made their intentions clear in their first game of the round, beating Barcelona 1-0. They went on to beat Grassy Park 1-0. Then, after that, the Mutual side booked their spot in the Easter Weekend spectacle, beating FC Manenberg 4-0.

They will battle it out in Group H alongside PSL outfit Bidvest Wits, Zambian giants Zesco United and fellow Capetonians Greenwood athletic.

The current Old Mutual team has shown that they can beat anyone at anytime. After all, the majority of their players were part of the squad that were crowned 2016 champions of the Engen under-17 Knockout Challenge after beating defending champions, and favourites, Ajax Cape Town 1-0 in the final.

Mutual went on to represent the province in the Champs of Champs in Gauteng later in the year.

However, their dream of emulating Ajax and become national champions faded when the tournament was called off following the death of Roo Stars player Kabelo Qabatsane, who collapsed during his side’s opening match against Old Mutual.

The side’s technical team and the players then looked at the task ahead, the under-19 Premier Cup.

The academy’s head, Rusdi Harris said their preparations for the tournament proper started as soon as the playoffs were over.

“We didn’t wait until we received notice from Premier Cup to say play offs will kick off. We have a year programme where we meet all our objectives regarding competitions.

“You must remember we have a young side every year and I’m proud of the way my players conduct themselves off and on the field,” he said.

Harris also noted that development is very important for them and the bigger picture is to develop the players to become professional footballers.

“When we pass players on to the next level, they must be ready to step in and that’s how we keep the quality in the wings to compete with in competitions. Last year, for instance, when we played in the under-17 knockout Challenge, we had two under-15 players and three under-14s in the squad. We also took them to the Champ of Champs,” he said.

He said the current team can still play for three more years in the Premier Cup.

“This group of players will do the business for us when the time is right. Yes they are young and when they play in the real cup they feel the heat but this is also where they gain experience every year they play against older players,” he said.

“So yes these young guns are coming along well and only time will tell when we will lift the cup. They did well in the Champ of Champs ending top out of the six teams that took part in the Champs, where all the teams played three games for the day,” he said.

They topped the log after beating Soweto giants Orlando Pirates 2 – 0 in the last game of the day. “The whole team that took part there will do duty for us in the Premier Cup,” he said.

This might just be their year, as the squad has proved to be one of the best.