AmaTuks finally graduate
AS THEY stand proudly on the cusp of Premiership promotion, University of Pretoria FC acknowledge their debt of gratitude to a certain under-23 rule.
Introduced at the beginning of the season, the rule compelled teams to field five players under the age of 23 at all times in their league matches.
And even though it was later scrapped, the University side, better known as AmaTuks, had reaped some rewards as they had stormed to a 17-point lead, which helped lay the foundation for a successful season.
Youth development has always been the cornerstone of AmaTuks philosophy, and after years of coming short on gaining promotion, due to lack of competitiveness in the transfer markets, the Pretoria side have finally made hay.
While some complained about the Under-23 rule, Steve Barker felt it suited his side just fine as youth development is what the University side is all about.
"The under-23 ruling also worked to our favour. We have always played under-23 in our squad and it wasn't a big change for us," he says.
"When they changed the ruling it dented our chance slightly . We've always brought youngsters through our system and we've laid a strong foundation. We had a bit of a wobble, but we showed character and bounced back."
AmaTuks have come this far before but not quite on the brink as they now find themselves, waiting for automatic promotion into the elite league.
The story of AmaTuks is quite a unique tale to tell.
It's a culmination of what started as a football development academy into a fully fledged professional team, now plying its trade in the Premier league.
Whereas many dreams have been driven and pursued by excessive spending and sheer desperation, AmaTuks reflect a dream development structure most PSL teams could only dream of.
It has taken eight years for what began as an unlikely dream to become a reality for the University side, whose ethos are deeply entrenched in patience, a sound development structure and ambitions synonymous with a University student.
"I strongly believe we will be competitive. One would work so hard to come and add numbers," says Barker.
"Four years ago one of the world's leading performance enhancement and speakers Wayne Goldsmith said to us: 'you got to train hard, got to think, plan, be smarter than their opponents'. And I think we've done that. We do a lot of things better than others. We've got good management structure, supportive senior management and better facilities. It's the right time for us to go up now, had we gone up earlier I think we might not have been as well prepared for the top flight as we are now.
"Getting up there is one thing, staying there is another. But I believe we can go there and entrench ourselves.
"It's not over yet, our target is 60 points."
AmaTuks visit Black Aces at Rand Stadium this afternoon.
Despite their limited resources - AmaTuks don't enjoy huge monthly grants from the university - AmaTuks have managed their success, producing over 10 players for top teams.
Among those who have gone through their structures include Andile Jali, now with Orlando Pirates, Lerato Chabangu, Rudi Isaacs (Both Moroka Swallows), Bongani Khumalo, who is with English Premiership side Tottenham Hotspur.
"We have been in the first division for a long time," he said.