Nedbank Cup Not Enough To Save Chiefs’ Horrid Season!
By Katlego Mereko
There was a time in Kaizer Chiefs’ history when going a full season without winning at least one trophy was unthinkable. As arguably South Africa’s biggest club, leaving a mark in each season was an essential attestation to their swollen status, and any coach who failed to lead the club to this would quickly find himself in hot water. That seems like eons ago though, as The Phefeni Glamour Boys have looked a shadow of their former selves in recent years.
During the 2012/13 season, the club embarked on a PR campaign that struck all the right cords in the hearts of the Amakhosi faithful. “Reclaiming the glory!” was the new catch-phrase, and it proved to not only be as bold and enchanting as its propagator in Marketing Director, Jessica Motaung, but infectious as well, as the club went on to win the first premier league trophy after eight years under the guardianship of now-Bafana Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter. Amakhosi would register a 2nd place finish before winning the league again in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons respectively.
But “Reclaiming The Glory” was hardly a vacuous marketing ploy designed to harness media attention towards the club. It was a historical claim, a call to return to the glory days that defined the club’s footballing identity. Kaizer Chiefs is a winning club, and with over 90 trophies in a 49-year history, their record speaks for itself. But it would be disingenuous for anyone to assume that they accrued that emphatic number of trophies with an undefined win-at-all-costs style of play. Very early in their history Kaizer Chiefs attracted the most naturally talented footballers who could perform wonders on the ball. Players of Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, Vusi “Computer” Lamola and Abednigo Shaka Ngcobo’s calibre made sure that Kaizer Chiefs wins on a consistent basis. Curiously, Kaizer Chiefs players became known for their flamboyance off the pitch, due in no small part to Kaizer Motaung’s influence, who plied his trade in the fashion-forward United States of America.
This flamboyance translated on the pitch as fans got used to swaggering displays at the old Orlando Stadium. Kaizer Chiefs even spilt blood in their pursuit of the era-defining Nelson Teenage Dladla, with team manager extraordinaire, Ewert “The Lip” Nene, being killed in the process by local fans who did not want to see Dladla at Phefeni. Imbued by the catharsis surrounding these events, the latter went on to make the number 11 his own, at Kaizer Chiefs. Today when the club thinks of a skilful left-winger, Dladla is the prototype. Those who, like the present author, were born in the 90s and afterwards will not have had the chance to see “Mgabadeli” in action, but elders in footballing circles say if you want to know how he played, watch Brazilian sensation Neymar Jr.
In the 21st century, it can be argued that the club’s best years were the 2001/02 season and the 2004/05 season. These seasons were memorable for their winning exploits as much as their swashbuckling displays when sorcerers of the ball such as Jabu Pule, Scara Ngobese, Arthur Zwane Thabo Mooki, and goal-machines like Siyabonga Nomvete and Collins Mbesuma etched their names in the annals of South African football history. Not much was memorable in Baxter’s era though. The club went about quietly and efficiently toward either target, securing two league titles in three seasons. Granted, Stuart Baxter had to establish a solid structure before encouraging more adventurous football, but winning alone is not enough at a club like Kaizer Chiefs and the Scot ultimately failed to move beyond that stage, with hopefuls such as George Lebese the biggest losers of Baxter’s tenure.
After three barren seasons under the ill-fated appointment of Steve Komphela, the club appeared ready the take it up one gear by signalling their intentions in the pre-season transfer market with marquee signings in the shape of Khama Billiat and Leonardo Castro. Five opening matches without a win in the Premier League hardly told the whole story. Bar their loss against Bidvest Wits, the club played enterprising football in their matches against Sundowns, Baroka, Maritzburg United and Bloem Celtic. Amakhosi’s newly allocated number 10, Siphelele Ntshangase, linked exceptionally well with Castro and Billiat in front of him, spraying champagne passes in all the right places and creating chances that saw the Zimbabwean star make a seamless transition from Mamelodi Sundowns. When they thumped Benni McCarthy’s side 4-1, it had only been a matter of time. Once again, Ntshangase proved the key player as the club went on a three-match winning run, making lightwork of FS Stars and Amazulu. It seemed the club were heading in the right direction, and even though Giovanni Solinas’s appointment did not inspire much hope, Chiefs legend Patrick Mabedi’s presence alongside the Italian seemed to be counting for something. But after that string of three matches won, something changed. Solinas overreached in his development of some of his personnel and started talking about wanting “pitbulls in midfield”. This reason was used by Solinas to justify Ntshangase’s seemingly shrinking game time after some putting in some lively displays for the club.
As Ntshangase disappeared from the line-up, so did the imagination in Kaizer Chiefs’ performances and unfortunately for Solinas, so did the results. By December he was fired, leaving the club languishing in 7th position on the log.
Nonetheless, in a move even more shocking than some of Thamsangqa Gabuza’s sitters, Chiefs appointed one of the least popular coaches in their history in Ernst Middendorp, who according to the club “understands the culture” of Kaizer Chiefs. Any real Khosi fan knows how farfetched and off the mark that statement is, especially looking at the current log, with the club right where he found it in December, 7th!
With four matches to go in the league, Kaizer Chiefs have no chance of winning the league, but retain the hope of at least clinching the Nedbank Club after an impressive 4-2 victory against Chippa United which sees them in the final against Dan Malesela’s TS Galaxy. Winning the cup should hardly be enough to see the German mentor remain at the club beyond this season though, as management ought to go back to the drawing board to find a coach more suitable to the club’s winning philosophy. Kaizer Chiefs have grown less and less attractive in recent years and rich history won’t be enough to convince newer football fans if they continue to fail backing it up with concrete and consistent efforts on the pitch.