Kaizer Chiefs football manager Bobby Motaung half-heartedly admitted that the club’s management is also to blame for the sticky situation Amakhosi currently find themselves in. The Glamour Boys have had more coaches this year (three) than trophies in the last three seasons (zero).
Ernst Middendorp became Chiefs’ third coach in 2018 when he was appointed as Giovanni Solinas’ replacement on Friday. Solinas was appointed on the eve of the 2018/19 campaign to replace Steve Komphela. Solinas lasted less than five months. The Italian was out of his depth and was exposed as tactically bankrupt by turning the tightest defence from last season to a porous unit that couldn’t even stop traffic with a red light.
Amakhosi settled on Solinas after a protracted search for a suitable coach. They lost their main targets to wealthier clubs on the continent. In appointing Solinas, they roped in a coach with no Cup pedigree but wanted him to end the club’s three-season barren run. “The results were not coming, and we felt that before it gets too late we must act. People’s integrity and the club’s integrity gets affected. We decided we would rather settle the matter and close [this chapter] early,” said Motaung.
Solinas’ appointment is not the only questionable decision Chiefs’ management have made in recent years. During Komphela’s tenure, there were many players who were signed only to be offloaded the following season as they couldn’t make the grade. Chiefs signed seven players in the 2016/17 season and promoted three from the development squad. Only three players – Ramahlwe Mphahlele, Siyabonga Ngezana and Ryan Moon – are still with the team from those 10 players. That prompted club boss, Kaizer Motaung Sr, to admit that the club’s recruitment policy has failed and needs to be revised.
‘48 years of a success story’
“We [management] will always be a part of anything that goes wrong,” said Bobby Motaung. “It is our responsibility, whether successful or not. The good thing about this club and this organisation is that it’s got 48 years of a success story. In those 48 years, there have been coaches who have come and gone and there are players who have come and gone. There are seasons where we were even at the bottom of the log. But we took responsibility [as management] and took the club to where it is today.
“We make decisions, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. That’s why we made a decision now [to fire Solinas]. We’re decisive! Once you become decisive, you make a decision. You don’t hide behind these things and say that you made a mistake.”
But Motaung was quick to remove the mask of humility, after admitting management’s shortcoming, and returned to his default setting – being cocky. “There’s no mistake that we made,” Motaung said in his brash tone.
“We did what we had to do with [appointing] Solinas and unfortunately it didn’t work out. We’ve brought in coaches who were not known before, even in the country. They’ve come in and have left. Some have stayed longer. Some have left and came back. It wasn’t a mistake. There are reasons for everything. Solinas could have stayed for a year to try and rebuild but we felt that it’s not coming and the pressure is there. We must consider the people’s feelings. The supporters’ feelings are very important to us.”
The feelings of Chiefs supporters were hurt by the appointment of the German. Most of them remember his disastrous first spell, from 2005 to 2007. Middendorp inherited a Chiefs’ juggernaut that had romped to league glory under Ted Dumitru. He somehow turned that forceful unit into a pathetic bunch by stripping it of its soul – especially their South African flair. What he did to the late Emmanuel “Scara” Ngobese, an artist whose creativity Middendorp took away, is considered by many as a footballing crime that should have seen the German appear before a war crimes tribunal at The Hague.
But the Middendorp who was officially unveiled at the Chiefs’ village in Naturena on Monday is wiser than the naive coach who was forced out of the club in 2007 after a string of draws. He even needed a police escort to leave Johannesburg Stadium at one point.
“I believe that in my movements in the country over the last years, more than a decade since I left Chiefs, I now have the background information that I didn’t have in my first stint,” said Middendorp. “I never stopped observing the league. Every time when I was here I would go to a stadium, it didn’t matter who was playing. The background is very important. Apart from that, I have confidence in myself. I know what I am doing and in addition to that, you have a [good] squad. They haven’t really shown their potential and their ability. But I am aware [of] what the players can do … That is definitely a huge advantage if you compare to what I knew in 2005.”
Chiefs’ wooed Middendorp from his role as technical director at Bangkok United in Thailand. Motaung revealed that the club had tried to bring him to Naturena at the start of the season but couldn’t get him out of his contract with Bangkok. Since leaving Chiefs more than a decade ago, Middendorp immersed himself in South African football and its idiosyncrasies in his spells at Maritzburg United, Golden Arrows, Bloemfontein Celtic and Chippa United.
‘He’s got an ID’
“The coach now understands South Africa and the South African mentality,” said Motaung. “He is a South African by the way. I know people will ask me about the work permit. He’s got an ID, so I am not waiting for a work permit.”
Since the German doesn’t need a work permit, he will be in charge of Amakhosi on Wednesday night against SuperSport United at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. Shaun Bartlett will be his second-in-command. Even though Middendorp’s appointment was met with a lot of scepticism, he is what the club needs at the moment. He will bring structure and a strong hand that was lacking under Solinas. The German is also not afraid to throw youngsters in the deep end. Chiefs’ development graduates found it tough under the Italian, whose only focus was winning, which he didn’t do that much. Middendorp’s success or failure doesn’t only rest on his tactical acumen, it also rests on management and their decisions in trying to return glory days at Naturena.
“We are not panicking. We would never panic,” said Motaung. “Even in the past seasons, we’ve reached finals and semifinals. You can’t be a magician and say that this is how we are doing it and it’s automatic that we are going to win. There’s competition. It’s tough. It’s up to the technical stuff and the players, how they come out of this period and how do they win. As management, we have a job to do. We provide the resources.”