JOHANNESBURG - If pre-season friendlies are nothing more than a limb-stretching kick-about with very little bearing on what transpires in the season proper, why is it that clubs so insist on participating in them?
And why do the teams celebrate the success there with such gusto, as Kaizer Chiefs did at the weekend when they captured the Bokone Bophirima Maize Cup in Orkney?
“It’s all about building confidence for the season ahead,” says renowned analyst Farouk Khan. “Of course pre-season tournaments can be very deceiving because there’s not much pressure on the teams. The players play without fear of losing and they can express themselves more freely than in normal in-season competition.”
Khan though, having watched Chiefs get the better of Botswana’s Township Rollers 2-0 (Gustavo Paez scored both goals) and then beat Free State Stars 1-0 (courtesy of a late George Lebese strike to capture the title), believes Amakhosi are looking good for a winning season.
“After two seasons of no silverware it will be a huge disaster if they don’t win anything in the coming one. Yet even though they had two bad seasons, the reality is that Chiefs have a quality squad good enough to challenge for titles. That’s why they’ve not gone into the market in a big way because there’s nothing better than what they already have.”
That Chiefs have not succeeded is a mystery Khan says only they can solve. But after the weekend, the man who once sat on the Amakhosi bench as assistant is in no doubt that his former club is good for some honours.
“The ingredients are there, they should just turn them into a winning formula. Obviously Steve (Komphela, the coach) will be under tremendous pressure. And the best for him would be to keep a cool and calm head which is where the players will derive their confidence from - his behaviour.
“He will have to find the right balance between playing the pressure down and hyping it up. One thing he has done a lot of in the past is to protect the players, but I believe he also needs to tell them when they are letting the team down.
"How he manages that team will determine their season. He is going to have to manage the process of getting the players to be consistent, that for me is the big test for Steve and Chiefs in the coming season. No doubt the quality is there, but can they show it on the pitch consistently?”
Khan highlighted the fact that Chiefs have arguably the best defensive unit in the league, with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune the country’s best and three of the back four all current Bafana internationals, with the leftback a highly experienced former national team player.
“It would have been very encouraging for fans to see George Lebese upping his game because he will definitely add value. After all Chiefs have historically always relied on charismatic creative players with great flair like he has, think of Ace Ntsoelengoe and Doctor Khumalo in the past.
“And then they have Shabba (Siphiwe Tshabalala) who seems to be getting better with age. Willard Katsande is Zimbabwe’s best midfielder and he too looks like he will continue going strong. And on the wings Tlou Molekwane and Patrick Thwala will provide the speed.”
The source of goals will be either of Gustavo Paez and Bernard Parker.
“Paez showed with those two goals he scored against Rollers that he is going to be a key player for them with his ability to exploit the spaces behind defences, and Parker was really good even though he didn’t score. His experience will come in very handy for Chiefs.”
Add to all that a few young players eager to impress, and Khan believes Chiefs have the makings of a championship-winning squad. And he is not simply just basing his views on what he saw at the Bokone Bophirima Maize Cup. In any case, “pre season tournament form can be deceiving”.
“The one thing Chiefs should have going for them is that they won’t be participating in the continental competition like the other top clubs.”