JOHANNESBURG - Itumeleng Khune agrees with the public perception: Kaizer Chiefs players need to put their words into action and help coach Steve Komphela, who is in the final year of his contract, deliver a trophy following two barren seasons.
Of course Komphela’s detractors believe the former national captain - he took the armband from Neil Tovey ahead of the nation's seventh game back, after readmission - should have been sacked, but that not being the case, Khune believes it’s the players who have to step up in the upcoming campaign.
There were more words from the Amakhosi skipper ahead of the club’s 2017/18 season opener against SuperSport United in the quarter-finals of the MTN8 to be played at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday. But this time the goalkeeper suggested he, along with his teammates, were under enormous pressure to prove they were capable of ending the unusual drought.
“At the end of last season we went away wondering whether we deserved to play for this club,” Khune said. “But we returned with a fresh approach and much more energised. We are playing against a ruthless team and, to be honest, we have to show more hunger.”
The captain spoke glowingly of Komphela’s methods and attributed the club's lack of success so far to a poor execution on the players’ part.
“It is not just the coach, who is under pressure. He is a good planner as well as tactician and the players have to execute the plan. We have let him down a couple of times. The past two seasons have been a bitter pill to swallow. It is a shame to us as players to go two years without a trophy. We have to take ourselves out of this, we have put ourselves under immense pressure,” Khune explained.
An example of another failure from the players’ point of view was the alarming rate at which Chiefs conceded late goals, which often led to them losing games or dropping points in the Premier League title race last season - they finished fourth as a result.
To try to remedy that and improve a back four which clearly needed new energy, the club has signed Zimbabwean centreback Teenage Hadebe from Chicken Inn and Philani Zulu, who didn’t necessarily scale to such heights that would have earned him a move to Chiefs from Maritzburg United before, although he has the advantage of having worked with Komphela in the past.
“We were all a little comfortable,” Khune explained. “The club has gone the extra mile to improve. Teenage is a good defender who listens, but unfortunately he is injured at the moment. Remember we were playing (Lorenzo) Gordinho on the left side of central defence and he is a right-footed player and I think most of the time he struggled.
"Teenage brings the strength and competition. Zulu is naturally a left-winger, but can play at left-back, and that means he gives Tsepo Masilela and Sibusiso Khumalo competition. That is what we want, and hopefully the team can improve.”
Chiefs were knocked out early in the MTN8 last season by Cape Town City away from home, and they face a side probably much stronger at the same stage of the tournament a year later. SuperSport are coincidentally now coached by Eric Tinkler, the man at the helm at the Mother City club last season, following Stuart Baxter’s departure to the national team.
“We are well aware of the fact they (SuperSport) haven’t had a break because of their commitment in African games. They are also on a high after winning the Nedbank Cup in June. They are a very difficult team to beat and we have to be clinical in front of goal and take our chances,” said Khune.