CAPE TOWN - Muhsin Ertugral knows about big derby games. He’s coached in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tunisia, Egypt, Germany and Turkey - and, having also experienced the Soweto derby from up close, having coached both Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, he is well-placed to offer an opinion of what makes the Soweto derby so special.
Chiefs and Pirates do battle in a PSL fixture at the FNB Stadium on Saturday, with the sell-out signs having already gone up at the ground. An 80 000-strong crowd is expected to watch the country’s two most popular football clubs in action. The fact that both sides are loftily perched on the PSL standings, with Pirates in second position and Chiefs third, adds even more spice to the fixture.
Current Ajax Cape Town coach Ertugral has been in charge of both Amakhosi and the Buccaneers, which is why he understands and fully appreciates the special allure of this derby, the biggest football match on the South African sporting calendar. Born in Turkey, Ertugral’s coaching philosophy was shaped in Germany. He arrived in South Africa in 1999 to coach Chiefs. He had another spell with Amakhosi in 2007, and coached Pirates in 2016.
“This derby is big because of its history,” said Ertugral. “When you have two teams who have won so many trophies between them, then you can expect that the fixture will be huge. Also, and even more importantly, it’s the fans who make this derby special. You can go to Argentina or Turkey, or anywhere in the world where there is a big derby, and you will find that it is the supporters who make the game what it is. And, when the interest is as high as with the Soweto derby, then the players know they have to rise to the occasion to make the football worthy of the hype.”
Derbies in recent years have perhaps been a bit stale. But with both teams showing great improvement under their current coaches - Giovanni Solinas (Chiefs) and Milutin Sredojevic (Pirates) - Ertugral believes the encounter could be an attacking treat. “In recent years, there have been quite a few draws and very few goals, and that is the big problem,” said Ertugral.
“I think that is because there is so much pride at stake that no-one wants to lose the derby. But looking at Saturday’s game, it’s clear that both teams love to play and they’ll get the crowd behind them. I think South Africa is fortunate to have such a derby as part of its football culture. While, recently, there may have been many draws and few goals, both teams are now very offensive, and I expect that on Saturday we will see many more entries into the penalty box.”
Ertugral’s Ajax, meanwhile, are looking good in the National First Division (NFD). The Cape club’s relegation from the top-flight was beset by arbitration hearings and court cases, but they haven’t let that be a hindrance. They’ve got on with the job and they remain determined to bounce back to the PSL next season. Currently in third spot on the NFD standings, they are certainly in a good position to fulfil their ambition.
“The NFD log isn’t a clear reflection of how Ajax have performed,” said Ertugral. “In eight games we have conceded just four goals; one was a penalty and one a free-kick, so we have only conceded two goals during the run of play. If I analyse our performances, our form and organisation are good. We are creating possibilities and we are making the entries into the offensive areas. But it’s the final product that has let the team down. This, of course, is a general problem in South African football. To have success, to win games, we need more precision up front.”