JOHANNESBURG – Having been tasked with the role of leading the team back to championship material, Ernst Middendorp channelled into the demands of the new term during Kaizer Chiefs’ win over Highlands Park in their Premiership opener on Saturday.
Following a four-year trophy drought, Chiefs are in a race against time to turn what’s growing an underwhelming outfit back to the pedigree that made them the most successful team in the PSL.
However, the man who’s been assigned to steer the team back to greatness has been under pressure in the last six months, especially after guiding the team to the disappointing ninth-place finish in the Premiership last term and missing out of the MTN8 competition for the first time in 13 years. Chiefs retained Middendorp for the new season, huffing and puffing to snatch a late win against Highlands on Saturday.
It was a match of roller-coaster emotions for the German tactician, showing a man that’s under huge pressure to deliver if he’s to buy himself more time at the helm.
He argued with the referees in the second half. From thereon, he went on to wildly celebrate Eric Mathoho’s winner - something that he’s not accustomed to. While later he stormed out of post-match media briefing after being asked about potentially being replaced by former Bafana Bafana Stuart Baxter - who resigned on Friday - if he doesn’t deliver success this season.
“If Kaizer Chiefs has an idea to bring Stuart Baxter they should do it, thank you,” said Middendorp before abruptly excusing himself from the media.
While Middendorp can only save his job if he delivers, the Kaizer Chiefs management, led by chairman Kaizer Motaung, has been moderate in their signings during the transfer window. They’ve signed three internationals, Zambian Lazarous Kambole, Serbian Samir Nurkovic and Ghanaian James Kotei, while Durban-born, Australian raised Kearyn Baccus was also part of the unveiled new signings at Naturena last week.
However, Chiefs has since been joined by youngster Yagan Sasman from Ajax Cape Town to bolster the defensive contingent. Kambole, Baccus and Nurkovic made their debuts against the Lions of the North, leaving a huge impression on Middendorp.
“There is still huge space for improvement despite winning here. But as I said before, the attitude, the character and the competitiveness in the team has to change and we saw that in the second half,” said Middendorp. “Samir is a fantastic player. Lazarous is a fantastic player. We have however to understand and respect that certain guys like Kearyn Baccus who is a fantastic player (might take longer to adapt).
James Kotei, who we haven’t used at the moment, also needs more time. I think he got flattened as he had to play 10 games in 15 days (before joining Amakhosi). He is not in the right frame that we can bring him on at the moment.”
Despite scrapping to victory against Highlands, Middendorp and his troops will be hoping to maintain the winning momentum when they welcome Black Leopards at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday in their second Premiership clash of the new term.@Mihlalibaleka