It’s fierce Middendorp-Mokwena warfare
The German coach is being showered with unprecedented love by the Chiefs’ faithful who didn’t like the idea of him returning to the club after a disastrous first spell.
It didn’t help that the team finished outside the Top Eight and he lost the Nedbank Cup to a first division team. But he hadn’t set the foundation of that team, coming halfway through the season after the sacking of Giovanni Solinas.
He started working on improving the team the following day after losing the final. And his meticulous planning has been evident in how Chiefs have turned around.
The team is hungry, driven and they give their all on the pitch.
These are the ingredients that have seen Chiefs light up the scene this season to sit in the No1 spot in the Absa Premiership.
Yes, Middendorp has played a key role in moving Chiefs from the depths of last season to the highs of this campaign. But even though they are top of the log, and beat defending champions Sundowns in their last game, they still don’t have anything to show for their turnaround.
The Telkom Knockout is a perfect opportunity to bring something feasible to show for their good run.
But they have to get past their arch-rivals who have dominated them in the past.
Ending Pirates’ dominance over them and going all the way in this competition will do Middendorp and the team a world of good.
A win over Pirates would send a loud statement about Chiefs’ potential as a championship-winning team. They have already passed some tough assignments, beating Sundowns in Pretoria and coming back from a goal down to beat Cape Town City in the Mother City.
But those matches weren’t as tough mentally as the Soweto Derby which is a last chance for one of these teams to end their trophy drought this year.
The Bucs coach, whose blood is black and white as a descendent of the legendary Sono clan, knows about this match only too well.
As the son of Julius ‘KK’ Sono, which makes him Eric ‘Scara’ Sono’s grandchild and Jomo Sono’s nephew, he had special privileges in the Soweto Derby at the old Orlando Stadium. A young Mokwena sat behind the technical area, close to the action in a VIP suite of some sort. So it’s at this stadium that the coaching bug bit him. Mokwena’s first memories as a “coach” was scribbling on the board at the stadium while his father was speaking. Little did he know that years later, he would be coaching Pirates and scribbling on the board at the new Orlando Stadium.
The pressure from the supporters is nothing compared to the pressure Mokwena places on himself at managing a team close to his and his family’s hearts.
He continuously stresses his love for the club, and it’s that love and a desire to give his late grandfather something to cheer about that made him leave the well-oiled machine of Sundowns to join a struggling Pirates.
A win this afternoon will be massive for Mokwena and the club. It would briefly get his doubters off his back as he has endured stinging criticism from some quarters who believe that he isn’t ready for this responsibility.
But the 32-year-old isn’t doing this for just himself, he is also doing it for other young coaches who haven’t been given a chance in South African football.
The fact that he is driven by a bigger goal is what makes it easier for him to endure the criticism and the late nights - his success will not just be his, but will be of an entire generation. This match is the most important in Mokwena’s short career as a head coach.