On the 18th of May, Kaizer Chiefs capped off their worst league campaign in the PSL era with a Nedbank Cup final loss to first division side TS Galaxy. It has only been 4 years since Amakhosi last won the cup and league double. How did things get so bad, so quickly?
The 2018/2019 season is one that all Kaizer Chiefs supporters would love to forget, and all Orlando Pirates supporters would love to remind them about. They finished 9th on the log; their worst league finish in the PSL era. To add insult to injury, their four-year cup-less run continued after they fell 1-0 to TS Galaxy – a team in the 2nd tier of South African football – in the final of the Nedbank Cup two weekends ago. As an Orlando Pirates supporter, I like nothing more than to see my rivals in pain. But this isn’t the time to sprinkle salt on their wounds, this is a time of reflection.
I’d love to have good news for Chiefs supporters. I want to say this season was an aberration; a once a millennia occurrence, that next season, Kaizer Chiefs will improve with a few signings here and there, and that they will have another ‘Operation Vat Alles’ type of a 2019/2020 season. But, in doing so I’d be neglecting to tell them the truth. Kaizer Chiefs’ have been moving in a downward trajectory ever since Stuart Baxter departed Naturena in 2015. Subsequent to the Brits exit, bad player’s signings, interference from the powers that be, and the hiring of coaches who weren’t a good fit, were just but a few things Kaizer Chiefs had gotten wrong over the past four years – hence their trophy cabinet has gathered cobwebs.
Stuart Baxter’s Kaizer Chiefs
Back in May of 2012, Kaizer Chiefs announced Stuart Baxter as their new head coach.
Executive Chairman Kaizer Motaung:
“It’s a great pleasure to announce Stuart Baxter as the new Kaizer Chiefs Coach. He will fit in well into our strategy going forward because of his great wealth of knowledge at the Club, National team and at an International level. His expertise as far as mentoring coaches as a coaching instructor will assist us in developing our own coaches and will also help a great deal in developing our youth academy”
It came as a shock because not too many South Africans had good memories of Stuart Baxter. He was Bafana Bafana coach between 2004 and 2005.
In case you missed it, here is a quick recap of his time at Bafana Bafana:
Stuart Baxter was appointed by SAFA in 2004 and he was mandated to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He resigned in 2005 before the end of his contract when he realised that wasn’t going to happen. The End.
Kaizer Chiefs would roll the dice on someone who has proved to quit when things started getting hot in the kitchen… and a liar. Three years later… He concluded his tenure at Kaizer Chiefs with four trophies; that included two league trophies, an MTN 8, and Nedbank Cup.
Stuart Baxter put his identity on Kaizer Chiefs. A very good defensive team that punished opponents with setpieces and quick transition.
Transition is going from offence to defence – or defence to offence. Your “transition game” is what you and your team do in the moments right after you take or lose possession of the ball – how you go from defending to attacking or from attacking to defending.
During the 2014/2015 season, Baxter explained his tactics to the media:
“I saw a survey that was done in Germany, and they studied five leagues in the world and came to the conclusion that 74% of all the goals scored were either set plays or rapid transitions under six passes… So we’ve worked very hard on our rapid transitions and set pieces. And the opposite, we’ve looked at defending both of those things too. It’s a big part of football and we do work very hard on it.”
Stuart Baxter became the first coach to win the PSL is his first season. After finishing 2nd in his second season he went on to win another championship in his third. Supersport United came calling and he left Kaizer Chiefs after three incredible seasons.
The Beginning of the Drought
After Baxter left, Kaizer Chiefs brought in Steve Komphela to replace him as new head coach on a three-year deal. Komphela had done a good job as Maritzburg United, Free State Stars, Platinum Stars, and Free State Stars coach but, this was his biggest test.
The former Bafana Bafana captain became the first local coach for Amakhosi in the Premier Soccer League era. Kaizer Chiefs’ Football Manager Bobby Motaung said Komphela was chosen out of 25 to 30 applicants after he met all the criteria:
“Steve applied for the job, we went through the normal processes. He topped all the criteria in terms of how we came up with the decision.”
“We will be beefing up the squad and we will sit down with Steve.”
Steve Komphela started out okay. His team won four, lost one, and drew five out of his first 10 games. But whilst Baxter’s team were about the transition football, Kompela’s team was more defensive with empty possession. I wasn’t a fan of his sometimes negative football but it got results. Komphela led the Soweto giants to two cup finals – the MTN8 Cup and the Telkom Knockout Cup in his first season, but he failed to win the trophies on both occasions. He did the best he can with the tools he had at his disposal. His second and third season was awash with mediocre signings and bad performances. It came to ahead when Kaizer Chiefs supporters almost burned down Moses Mabhida after their semi-final loss to Free State Stars in the Nedbank Cup semi-final.
Speaking to the SABC’s Sports @10 Television programme in June last year, Komphela said he respects the people he worked with at Amakhosi:
“I am disappointed that we were so close to winning trophies, yet we did not,” said Komphela. “The rest of the other stuff which one cannot point at and it’s stuff that is not seen, I’m happy. I’m sure apart from winning trophies when you walk and look back at what you did, you say, ‘I think I did justice’,”
I was one of the first people to say the marriage between Steve Komphela and Chiefs won’t be a fruitful one. I may have even started the #KomphelaOut movement on Twitter. Besides being a troll I was actually watching the games. I came to realise that Komphela’s tactics and what had been successful for Kaizer Chiefs over past two seasons was apple and oranges.
Komphela managerial record before Kaizer Chiefs:
Komphela had done well at less talented teams. He is an expert in setting up his teams to be difficult to beat. But a Kaizer Chiefs, you need to set up your teams to win games. I don’t blame Steve for all that went wrong at Chiefs under him. He did not have as much autonomy as Steve Baxter had. Komphela might have picked the team but was he making the signings?
The Transfer Policy
New player signings should be made by the (a) coach and (b) with said coach’s system in mind. In his first season in charge, Stuart Baxter bolstered his squad with defenders Morgan Gould, Siboniso Gaxa, and Kgotso Moleko. He then signed midfielder Siyabonga Nkosi and striker Sakhile Hlongwa, goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo and striker Kingston Nkatha. Gould and Gaxa became stalwarts in his solid back-four alongside Tsepo Masilela and club captain Tefu Mashamaite. In his next two campaigns, Baxter only signed 7 players. Contrast that with the four seasons following him; Kaizer Chiefs made 31 signings. Three-quarters of those players weren’t good enough hence a handful of them didn’t make their debuts and the rest of them played under 10 games.
OKay, I know what you thinking: “Wait a minute Thabang, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates make 31 signings between them in one season alone”.
True but, the difference is Orlando Pirates signs good players which they use in their rotation and Mamelodi Sundowns sign good players to weaken their opposition. The result: they have been the two best teams in South African football in the past couple of years.
Who is responsible for making the signings at Kaizer Chiefs? Did the coach sign the likes of Sula Matovu, Bongani Ndulula, Keegan Ritchie, Lewis Macha, Keagan Buchanan and Siyanda Xulu but each failed to make more than 10 Absa Premiership appearances? It doesn’t make sense. When Komphela said “The rest of the other stuff which one cannot point at and it’s stuff that is not seen…” he pretty much confirmed that people higher than him were making decisions without his input.
The Chickens Came Home To Roost
The 2018/2019 season was a disaster before it even began for Kaizer Chiefs. This wasn’t one bad season this was the culmination of all the bad decisions Kaizer Chiefs had been making over the past three. It’s sort of like working in an office. Deciding to one day weigh yourself after five years. Surprise, surprise you a bigger – way bigger. Is it old age fat? Not really… it’s all the takeaways, potato chips, and sweets you’ve been ingesting plus the lack of exercise over the past half a decade.
Your gluttony has finally caught up with you the same way Chiefs’ ineptitude has caught up with them this season. Let me list the mistakes:
1. They hired Giovanni Solinas as their head coach.
Solinas was a strange appointment. He had two stints at Free State Stars which he picked up a total of 32 points from a possible 87, with a points per game average of just 1.10. Below average. It was clear to me and I’m sure you too that Solinas’ Kaizer Chiefs had no structure or game plan.
2. Their Signings
Although Billiat was somewhat of a good signing the rest of their signings made in 2018/2019 were mediocre that did nothing to improve the team, especially defensively: Letlhogonolo Mirwa, Lebohang Manyama, Andriamirado Andrianarimanana, Virgil Vries, and Daniel Akpeyi. Orlando Pirates signed Brilliant Khuzwayo, Vincent Pule, Ben Motshwari, Meshack Maphangule, Asavela Mbekile, Linda Mntambo, Abel Mabaso, Paseka Mako and Kudakwashe Mahachi. Bidvest Wits signed Haashim Domingo, Bantu Mzwakali, Simon Murray, Terrence Dzvukamanja, Mxolisi Macuphu, Vuyo Mere, Lehlohonolo Nonyane, Robyn Johannes, Brighton Mhlongo, Gift Motupa and Deon Hotto. Mamelodi Sundowns signed Tony Silva, Jose Ali Meza, Lyle Lakay, and Andile Jali and Mosa Lebusa.
3. Firing Solinas and hiring Middendorp
I understand the firing of Giovanni Solinas, he was clueless, but hiring Ernst Middendorp and handing him a two-and-a-half year contract didn’t make sense to me. He did not win the league with them in his first stint as their coach from 2005-2007 and Kaizer Chiefs went on a five-game winless streak at the end the season.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world for Kaizer Chiefs. Their disgruntled supporters will continue to fill stadiums and they will remain the 2nd richest club in Africa. Chiefs need to make signings, good signings not cheap signings. A club like Chiefs is an asset, an appreciating asset. The Motaungs have been running Kaizer Chiefs like a business and they have done an exceptional job. But in 2019, it’s not about profits. As owners of a football club, you must accept that you will probably lose more money than you make. Mamelodi Sundowns is a prime example; they win all the time because they give Pitso Mosimane a blank cheque to sign whoever he wants. Orlando Pirates and Bidvest WIts are right behind them. Kaizer Chiefs cannot afford to be left behind. Ernst Middendorp in on a two-year contract, the board should have his back. He should have complete carte blanche over the players that come in and go out. If he loses, let him lose his way. Finishing 9th on the log in unacceptable for a team like Kaizer Chiefs. But let this season be a lesson to all the ‘big teams’. If you don’t spend the money for the talent and the people in boardroom meddle with what happens on the pitch you’ll be another victim.