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Is the balance of power shifting in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League?

FC Platinum finally bagged their coveted maiden league title after years of underachievement this season, and their success reinforces the perception that the balance of power is shifting away from the traditional giants in Zimbabwe's Premier Soccer League.

Indeed, following decades of often monotonous dominance by the big three of Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United, Platinum, along with fellow upstarts Ngezi and Chicken Inn, appear primed to upset the established order.

However, don't expect the traditional heavyweights to surrender without a fight.

Twenty one-time champions Dynamos, for their part, finished two points behind Platinum in second place in yet another remarkable show of resilience from a team who had looked destined for mid-table obscurity at the start of the campaign.

CAPS United may have finished 14 points adrift of top spot, but they won the title last term, while they also became only the second local side to reach the group stages of the CAF Champions League this year, showing that they are determined to remain competitive.

Bulawayo giants Highlanders, on the other hand, have been without a title triumph for a good 11 seasons now, with their sixth-placed finish perhaps suggesting things are getting worse rather than better. However, they do posses some genuine prospects within their youth ranks, fuelling optimism of a return to brighter days.

Yet the landscape is shifting. In winning the league, Platinum became the second 'small team' to clinch the title in the last three years, while five of the last 10 championships have gone to teams out of the big three.

For context, the dominance of the traditional giants has been such that collectively, the trio had won 23 of the 28 titles between 1980 and 2007, with Dynamos alone accounting for 12 of those.

Dynamos, CAPS and Highlanders are the only survivors from the pre-1980 era, and enjoy massive backing among the country's football followers.

However, a failure to capitalise on their popularity by attracting endorsements is proving costly, with the chronic financial challenges bedevilling all three setting the stage for a sustained shift in the balance of power as top players prioritise financial survival over fame.

Dynamos and FC Platinum may have been separated by a mere two points at the end of the season but the contrast between the two camps could not be sharper.

While the newly crowned champions are strategising on bringing in reinforcements ahead of CAF Champions League commitments, penniless Dynamos are reportedly hoping to lure those players who have been struggling for regular action at Platinum.

Furthermore, the Harare giants owe their current squad huge amounts in outstanding bonuses in yet another unhelpful development for Zimbabwe's best supported club.

CAPS have also endured incidences of player protests over unpaid salaries during the season, while Highlanders' own financial challenges are equally well-documented.

Consequently, the big guns are increasingly finding themselves in an awkward space where they can neither compete for top talent nor keep hold of their prized asserts.

Platinum, Chicken Inn and Ngezi meanwhile have no such worries and, given their solid financial backgrounds, should only continue to strengthen.

Zvishavane-based Platinum, in particular, have been the most attractive destination for talent over the years and the only question is why it has taken them this long to assert their superiority.

This is a club whose strength in depth is unrivalled, and their voracious appetite for talent has actually been blamed for stifling the careers of many promising young players.

This season alone, exciting midfielders Marshal Mudehwe, Hillary Bakacheza, Nqobizitha Masuku, Brett Amidu and Brian Muzondiwa spent much of the time twiddling their thumbs on the sidelines.

Just like Platinum, Ngezi are also funded by a platinum mining house, and although they are only in their second season in the top flight, enough has already been done to suggest a brighter future ahead.

They only bowed out of the title race following a 2-1 loss to Platinum in the penultimate round, eventually finishing third, and had the second most prolific strike-force with 54 goals in 34 matches. Their shrewd talent scouting and solid financial base should keep them in contention for years to come.

Chicken Inn on the other hand have proved their title triumph of 2015 was no fluke with some fine performances this year to finish fourth as their approach of targeting lesser-known but talented players continues to work for them.

In 2015, the Bulawayo-based outfit unearthed Edmore Chirambadare, now with Kaiser Chiefs, and this year they brought the talents of former Hwange man Innocent Mucheneka to the fore.

As we turn the page on the 2017 Zim PSL season, and look ahead to 2018, followers of the nation's soccer should brace for a spectacle as an ailing but resilient old guard attempts to reassert its dominance in the face of an onslaught from an ambitious and well motivated crop of upstarts.

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