22 May 2007
South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL) wrapped up its 2006/07 programme on the weekend with a number of the matches carrying important implications for the 2007/08 season.
Most notably, Kaizer Chiefs lost 2-1 to Silver Stars, leaving the Amakhosi outside of the top eight finishers, thus missing out on next season’s SAA Supa 8 competition.
Heading into their game against Silver Stars, Chiefs knew they needed a victory to give them the opportunity to defend the title they won earlier this season. However, a lacklustre performance, in which an own-goal made the difference, summed up Chiefs’ season.
Stars took the lead on the half-hour mark when Simba Marumo headed in from a cross by Tshepo Ramokala.
In the second half, Serge Djiehoua brought Chiefs level with a header of his own, but Kosta Papic’s charges undid the hard work it required to tie the game when defender Simphiwe Mkhonza beat goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez with a header to net an own-goal.
The loss brought the club’s league season to an end with the team in ninth place and with a middling record of 11 wins, nine draws and 10 defeats.
The side’s goal difference was decent; with a positive difference of 10 it was fourth best in the league. But a ninth place finish was nowhere near good enough for the club’s fans, who expect Chiefs to challenge for titles every season.
The average results cost coach Ernst Middendorp his job at the end of February, but his replacement, Kosta Papic, had no better success than the German; if anything, the Amakhosi’s form dipped even more under him.
Maybe it is Chiefs’ reputation as an entertaining team that has hurt the club. They finished the season as the second-highest goal scorers, but much like Spanish giants Real Madrid in recent years, South Africa’s most popular football team is discovering that scoring goals is only part of what the game is about.
Look at any title-winning side and you will see it is defence that wins championships.
Six clubs had better defensive records than Chiefs, while Bloemfontein Celtic, who clinched eighth place in the PSL after ending their season with a one-all draw against bottom club Maritzburg United, conceded 32 goals, the same number as Chiefs.
And, defensively, matters are not about to get any easier for the Phafeni Glamour Boys. Their highly-rated Bafana Bafana goalkeeper, Rowen Fernandez, has confirmed he won’t be renewing his contract when it runs out at the end of June.
Fernandez will be making a move to German club Arminia Bielefeld, now managed by former Chiefs’ coach Ernst Middendorp. He has signed a three-year contract.
As is so often the case with soccer clubs, it is the coaches that cop the flak when the team doesn’t perform up to expectations. Results not good enough? Change the coach.
It is a “solution” that is often seen in the PSL, and now rumours are doing the rounds that Kaizer Chiefs are interested in Silver Stars’ coach Owen Da Gama – whose team, ironically, was the one that stopped the Amakhosi sneaking into the top eight at the death.
Da Gama was named the PSL’s coach of the year in 2006 after leading unfashionable Stars to a fifth place finish in the league. In 2007, he helped the club move up to second place. It was the fourth year of improvement for the team.
With their second-place finish, Stars qualified for a place in the African Champions League, but that might not be enough to hold onto their coach if Chiefs come calling. Kaizer Motaung’s club is, after all, the most popular one in South Africa.
Papic is not expected to stay on as Chiefs’ coach. A two-year contract hinged on whether or not he could improve the club’s fortunes after Middendorp departed.
‘What have you done for me lately’
The Serb didn’t get that right, winning only once, and in the “what have you done for me lately” world of the PSL that likely means he won’t be retained. He could be sent on his way as early as this month.
Chiefs’ supporters won’t be sleeping any easier either after Mamelodi Sundowns swept to an easy victory in the league. The Brazilians are also through to the final of the Absa Cup, another of the competitions the Amakhosi won in 2006.
It seems the gap is widening between Sundowns – backed by the big bucks of mining magnate Patrice Motsepe – and the rest, and Chiefs’ fans want to see the Brazilians’ domination ended as soon as possible.
Is a change of coach the answer? Maybe it is part of the answer. However, it seems Chiefs need to look further than what is essentially a solution provided by laying the blame at one man’s feet.
Results are achieved by the exploits of players on the field, and that is where Chiefs need to turn things around.
Last season, they finished third in the league. The two seasons before that they won the PSL.
For a club used to winning silverware, a return to the top is what the fans will be demanding. Nothing less.