JOHANNESBURG – Ernst Middendorp’s first spell at Kaizer Chiefs has prepared the German well in his role as a fire extinguisher, jumping straight into the club with flames of disappointment ravaging Amakhosi.
This is the view of Chiefs midfielder Hendrick Ekstein. Middendorp has made a seamless transition to his life as Chiefs coach even though he was thrown in the deep end, replacing a coach who had lasted less than five months and he had to turn things around with a squad he didn’t have an input in its assembly.
The loss to Mamelodi Sundowns did more good than harm. It exposed Chiefs’ frailties upfront and how they let opponents off the hook once they have them pinned against the wall. Middendorp has to fix that, especially tonight against Bidvest Wits at Bidvest Stadium in the Absa Premiership.
“We’re happy that we have coach Ernst because he knows the team’s philosophy and the culture,” Ekstein said. “We gelled very fast because he knows what the club wants and we know what he wants. It wasn’t that difficult for us to gel under him. We’re happy to have him.
“As a coach, you have to be strict. He knows what he wants and we know what’s needed from us. If he is going to be making jokes, we aren’t going to take him seriously. There’s a time to work and there’s a time for jokes.”
Middendorp’s impact at Chiefs has been swift. He has brought more tactical organisation and structure to the club while allowing ball players more freedom. The three-pronged midfield with Ekstein, George Maluleka and Lebogang Manyama will trouble teams with their skill and muscle that Maluleka and Manyama bring. They bossed the midfield against Sundowns and they will look to do the same in the Wits midfield led by Thabang Monare.
“I love competition,” Ekstein said.
“I enjoy the competition with the guys because if there’s no competition that means you aren’t going to do anything. I am happy that I had to fight to get my chance. I have scored two goals so far under coach Ernst. Scoring goals is something that I have been lacking.”
While Chiefs’ attack can be blunt at times, Wits’ attack is the most lethal in the country with 24 goals in 16 matches. Ekstein and company will have to raise their game if they are to get something out of their clash with the early pacesetters in the league race. But despite Chiefs’ shortcomings, Ekstein is confident that the club can bounce back after three barren seasons.
“This team can go far because the coach understands us and we understand him,” Ekstein said. “He told us that we have to lift our socks and play well because we have gone three seasons and approaching the fourth season without a trophy.
We need to win something for the team because Kaizer Chiefs is a big team and it’s known for winning trophies.”