Ernst Middendorp’s fate was sealed by Wits loss
JOHANNESBURG - SuperSport TV commentator Baba Mthethwa gave the moment that might have cost Ernst Middendorp the league title and his job a befitting description in his native SeSotho language: "Wa tsamaya Johannes" (Johannes is leaving).
On Monday afternoon, August 31, 2020, the German tactician took a strained, lonely walk in stoppage time towards one of the empty surrounded tunnels at the FNB Stadium as if his world appeared has just crumbled into pieces.
Kaizer Chiefs were incredible seconds away from losing their grip at the summit of the Premiership standings. Bidvest Wits' striker Bienvenu Eva Nga had just scored a late solitary winner that looked to hand over the top seat to Mamelodi Sundowns who were squaring off with relegation threatened Baroka FC later in the day.
But Sundowns didn’t grab the opportunities to go to the top with both hands, although they pipped Chiefs in the final of the season for the title. Instead, it was Baroka FC who made Middendorp’s inevitable wait for failure a bit longer.
Baroka incredibly defeated Sundowns that night at the Dobsonville Stadium but just as Chiefs thought they got off the hook ahead of the last days of the season, Bakgaga crushed their dream with aplomb on the final day as they held Amakhosi to a 1-1 draw that awarded the league title to Sundowns.
But it was not the instructions of coach Dylan Kerr, the goal from Ananias Gebhardt and Manuel Kambala against Sundowns and Chiefs or Ayanda Dlamini and Elvis Chipezeze’s time wasting antics against the championship hopefuls that were responsible for Amakhosi's downfall.
In fact, if you believe there are superstitions in football, then Chiefs and Middendorp lost the title and his job at the fate of the man that is highly expected to sit on the home dugout at the FNB Stadium, Amakhosi’s home ground, next season.
Everything on that fateful Monday was just not going Chiefs’ way. That their unfamiliar ability to find each other on open spaces was working, was surprising. That when they needed the most crucial goal after a relatively unfamiliar but proper performance, their best player of the season - Samir Nurkovic - missed a sitter, was alarming.
But as Eva Nga’s 95-minute strike forced Middendorp to that walk of dejection, Wits’ coach Gavin Hunt had all but done enough to send his application as the German’s successor to Chiefs’ management without sending an email, text message or phone call. He didn't say a word.
In fact, Hunt is a technical genius, considering that he somehow applied for Middendorp’s job on the pitch. Sometime during the season, he refuted the claims that Chiefs were keen on his services and requested that Middendorp be respected considering he was then on course to win the Premiership title.
But after that damning statement from Chiefs on one of their reasons to immediately release Middendorp, who had a year to run on his contract, chances that the German was going to be retained even if he delivered the championship are nigh impossible.
“However, when the league restarted post-lockdown, things changed, and we looked a totally different side in our last eight league matches,” Chiefs’ el supremo Kaizer Motaung said in the statement.
“We witnessed some heart-stopping performances and we were overtaken on the log in the last game of the season, which truly broke our hearts. We have to take responsibility – we can’t wait and allow this situation to continue.”
With Chiefs saying they’ll announce Middendorp’s replacement later this month, petitions, suggestions and outcry from Amakhosi’s faithfuls to have Hunt as their commander in chief next season have gained momentum.
The 56-year-old, who’s won four league titles in his coaching career that has spanned over two decades, is currently unemployed after Wits sold their status ahead of the new season. But in contrast, Hunt has denied any talks between him and Chiefs.
But well, if anything is to go by on the rumour mill, where Hunt and Chiefs are said to be at an advanced stage in their negotiations, then Middendorp's fate, superstitiously, was decided by his successor at his next work station.