Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp called on his players to be more aggressive and competitive as the Soweto giants look to stop the rot that has seen South Africa’s most successful team go four seasons without a trophy.
Amakhosi will start the new season with a tricky clash against Highlands Park at Makhulong Stadium on Sunday.
Middendorp and the Lions of the North coach, Owen da Gama, spoke confidently about their respective teams at the launch of the 2019/20 Absa Premiership season at the sponsor’s office in Auckland Park.
The two coaches resembled boxers at one point, throwing jibes at each other with neither flinching. The German even stepped in to “correct” Da Gama, who was bullish in his speech, even saying that Highlands are targeting No 1 position this league. The aggressive posture that Middendorp adopted to defend his team is what he is expecting from his players on Sunday and throughout the season.
“What we need is a competitive and aggressive mentality,” Middendorp said. “You can’t in this day and age, it probably happened 15-20 years ago, where you do your shoe-shine stuff. This isn’t the soccer that’s played anymore. We experienced that, if teams are coming at you and you aren’t prepared to be a man then you will suffer.
We are on our way of preparing ourselves to be more competitive, it’s not just about being aggressive. The other coach (Da Gama) mentioned it, this is a man’s sport. Let’s be men.”
The question put to Middendorp after his answer was should a team of Chiefs’ stature, with four forgettable seasons in the back of their minds, be told that they need to be more aggressive? Should that not be a default setting of a Chiefs player?
“You play somewhere in a club, it doesn’t matter where. Let’s say KwaZulu-Natal and you are the hottest chick in the team. You get a contract here and think that you are in paradise. You think that you have achieved what you want. Everybody loves you, and then you forget about the hard work,” the German responded.
His statement signalled that Middendorp will be cracking the whip as Chiefs aim to bring back brilliance. But in Highlands, they will find a stubborn opponent that will make it hard for them to start that road to brilliance in Makhulong.
The compact stadium has become a fortress for Da Gama’s team. In their first season back from the National First Division they finished seventh - two places higher than Amakhosi. On paper, Highlands should be favourites for this match. They had the better season and have made it hard for visiting teams when they come to Tembisa.
“We understand that this season is going to be much tougher and harder for us,” Da Gama said. “We paid a lot of school fees last year. All we want to do is not to pay those school fees, we shouldn’t make those mistakes. Let’s be realistic.
I have to say that we are targeting No 1 to give the players confidence. It is a process. There are teams in the PSL who have been here for 10 years but have never smelled No 1. Who are we? We are very realistic about where we are. We just want to grow as a club.
There’s no way we can compete against Mamelodi Sundowns, Chiefs and Orlando Pirates because they have the experience and top coaches.”