A day after ending another disappointing season, made worse by losing to National First Division side TS Galaxy in the final of the Nedbank Cup, Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp went to work to ensure he stops the rot that has hit Naturena.
The end of last season stretched to four the number of seasons South Africa’s cup kings have gone without a trophy. If going one season without a trophy was an anomaly for Amakhosi, two was a cause of concern and three raised alarm bells while four made it a crisis.
Middendorp, who has promoted a number of youngsters to mix them with experience at Chiefs, is confident the crisis ends this season.
A good performance against Highlands Park at Makhulong Stadium in their opening Absa Premiership match of the 2019/20 season will set the tone of what’s to come from Amakhosi.
“It will be a totally different set-up,” Middendorp said.
“Our biggest challenge was very clear. Immediately after finishing the season on the 18th of May, in the next morning we started looking into what needs to be done.
“It’s not only about getting the players who were injured back. Itu Khune will be back, and he could even play (against Highlands).
“It’s not only about getting (Eric) Mathoho, (Lebogang) Manyama, Rama (Ramahlwe Mphahlele) or Reeve Frosler, who came from (Bidvest) Wits, where he was parked in the ground somewhere to make him sharp.
“I am not only talking about Happy Mashiane, who did well in the first two games and then he was kicked all over. Protect yourself. Be faster!
“It’s important to bring these players to their maximum. They look good. They have made a huge step forward into what we want to see.”
Middendorp wants Amakhosi to be more aggressive and competitive.
He couldn’t have asked for a better start than against Highlands Park - a tough nut to crack and one of the hardest working teams. The Lions of the North don’t give an inch, especially at Makhulong. Whatever visiting teams leave with, they do so having worked hard for it.
Bernard Parker has bought into Middendorp’s demands of wanting to see Chiefs players work harder.
“We can all see where the game is going and what gives you results,” Parker said. “What gives you results at the highest level is competitive aggressiveness. Liverpool showed that and they won the (Uefa) Champions League. Other clubs have also shown that.
“You’ve got to be prepared to do the work on and off the ball. We all want to have the ball and we can do magic with it and all that. But off the ball, which is the unsexy things, we need to sharpen ourselves in that regard.
“That’s where the game is going. For a big club like Kaizer Chiefs, we need to be up there. We need to always stay up there with the good structure and quality that we have.
“Every player that comes to this club needs to fit that profile, in terms of what needs to be done to achieve what we want to achieve.”
Middendorp brought more structure and better tactical organisation at Chiefs when he replaced the bumbling Giovanni Solinas. Just as when the club was gaining momentum under the German, they were hit by injuries that sidelined influential players.
“Since the coach came, we have been playing well and doing the right things,” Parker said.
“All that’s missing is that final piece of the puzzle. We need to take our chances. We create a lot of chances. We do a lot.
“When we concede, it feels like a punch and we need to believe in ourselves. Trust the process, with the quality that we have - our quality will speak for itself.”