JOHANNESBURG – Ernst Middendorp hinted that Kaizer Chiefs will wield the axe to trim excess fat in their squad to build a more formidable team which will compete for honours next season.
The German coach was thrown into the deep end at Amakhosi in December last year, replacing the bumbling Giovanni Solinas who was out of his depth in charge of the Glamour Boys.
Middendorp has brought more structure and identity at Chiefs, despite losing influential players like Itumeleng Khune and Lebogang Manyama to injury.
He has also taken Chiefs to the semifinal of the Nedbank Cup, where they meet Chippa United in Port Elizabeth following their 2-0 win over Cape Town City on Sunday. It was a commanding display from Middendorp’s men, showing what they could be like once the German has settled and even had a pre-season with the side.
“We should have four or five points more than what we currently have. We threw points away. At the moment, we can’t think too far ahead. The team has reacted well. The players are motivated, and we will challenge for whatever is in front of us,” Middendorp said.
But during his spell, some players haven’t covered themselves in glory - like Virgil Vries whose mistakes relegated him to the stands, having been brought as Khune’s replacement while the Bafana Bafana No. 1 regains his fitness.
“We are capable of achieving. At the moment we are not 100% happy with some players, it’s not a secret,” Middendorp said. “We have to look at how far we can go next season. But that’s a normal process.
“Attitude is very important for each and everybody. You must have the right attitude each and every day. If you come to the training session and do a little bit on Monday, push yourself on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday you just roll your fingers... what do you want with that type of player?”
"There is so much data analysis that tells you how much a player is giving you, so you can’t say that I am out because the coach doesn’t love me. It’s very clear. The players are in the spotlight every day. There’s progress and there are a lot of challenges on everybody’s shoulders.”
Hendrick “Pule” Ekstein has made the most progress under the German. The skilful but erratic Ekstein is slowly assuming the role of playmaker, taking matches by the scruff of the neck and unsettling opposition defenders. But he hasn’t signed a new contract as his current deal comes to an end.
Middendorp hasn’t hidden his admiration for the 28-year-old, and embraced Ekstein after substituting him against City following his spirited performance that even earned him praise from Bafana Bafana legend, Benni McCarthy.
“I have said it several times, Pule is one of the best players I have worked with,” Middendorp said. “I will say it again. There’s a bit irritation at the moment (with the contract negotiations). I told him 'I hope you stay. I hope you work with us'. He knows where I stand.
I think that he should reflect a little bit, where has he been? He started playing in Madagascar late last year. Where was he?”