PSL / 6 January 2020, 06:30am / Bonginkosi Ndadane
The fanfare and the festive mood that will greet Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium on Wednesday will not move coach Ernst Middendorp.
The straight-talking German coach, whose smile looks strained, will be focusing on bigger things than Chiefs’ 50th birthday celebrations where the club’s supporters have been granted free entry into the iconic venue.
Amakhosi turn 50 tomorrow but there hasn’t been much to celebrate after four barren seasons - an anomaly they are looking to address this season by winning the Absa Premiership for the first time in five years.
Chiefs are still top of the standings but their lead has been slashed to four points by Mamelodi Sundowns at the halfway mark.
While Chiefs lost 2-1 to SuperSport United on Saturday, Sundowns thumped AmaZulu 3-0 to move a step closer to Amakhosi. At one point the gap was 13 points with Chiefs seemingly running away with the league.
The second half will not only test Amakhosi, but all 16 clubs as they will now be fighting for something - whether it’s the championship, top eight or survival.
That’s why Middendorp will not be wearing any party hat when he steps into FNB Stadium to take on Highland Park.
“I am not thinking too much about a packed stadium and bouncing back (from the loss to SuperSport),” Middendorp said.
“I am looking into it, we have to sort some stuff out. We have to find the right combinations to see who will take up the positions. That’s it!
“For me, and us in particular, the preparations shouldn’t be influenced (by the celebrations) and we put pressure on ourselves. It’s a long journey; I have said it a number of times that the league isn’t won in November or January. This (race) will go until the end of the season. We are aware about it and that should be the mindset of each and everybody.”
Chiefs will be without Khama Billiat for this clash who will be out for three weeks. But the club has received a huge boost in the return to fitness of goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who was on the bench in the loss to Matsantsantsa a Pitori.
Even though SuperSport spoiled the start of Chiefs’ celebrations, coach Kaitano Tembo has a lot of respect for the institution and what the club represents.
“Chiefs are trendsetters,” Tembo said. “That’s why they’ve got a huge following. Everyone wants to be associated with their brand.
“They are a big team. They have worked on and off the field to be where they are at the moment.
“Credit should be given to the chairman, Mr (Kaizer) Motaung. He’s really worked hard for the club to be where they are at the moment. Look at the support today; when we play against Chiefs everyone looks forward to that game. Even us, it raises the bar, from our players as well.
“That tells you the kind of club they are. They are a huge club. I knew them when I was still playing in Zimbabwe. Sometimes without even watching them, you can hear the noise that there is Kaizer Chiefs.
“Their marketing department does a lot of work and that pushes the work which is done by the players. We need to learn from them and congratulate them for getting this far. They are a huge club and they are still growing.”