Chiefs were bound to suffer from the outset, hiring Giovanni Solinas who was clueless about the demands of a beleaguered team enduring a three-year trophy drought.
The German tactician was a breath of fresh air at the club as fringe players came to the fore, and development graduates jumped up from the reserves. But the wheels came off in the league as they became obsessed with ending their trophy drought via the Nedbank Cup competition.
Chiefs are in the final of South Africa’s premier club knockout competition and will face TS Galaxy at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday (7pm), while they finished ninth on the log standings – their worst finish in almost 13 seasons and ironically Middendorp was in charge then.
“Let’s be honest the second highest competitive competition (is the Nedbank Cup). The first one is the Premiership and congratulations to (Mamelodi) Sundowns, they fully deserved to be the champions again. And the second is the Nedbank competition, and the final is in front of us. So, we are preparing for it from Sunday morning (after being denied a top eight finish by Chippa United on Saturday), and that’s what we are targeting,” Middendorp said yesterday. Considering that Chiefs make their return to the World Cup venue, where scenes of hooliganism erupted from their supporters after they lost to outgoing champions Free State Stars in the semi-finals last season, the only option for Middendorp’s troops is to win.
Victory might not replace the embarrassment of finishing out of the top eight, but it will earn them continental football next season and buy Middendorp some time. The former Maritzburg United and Bloemfontein Celtic coach played it safe about his future at the club.
“I won’t talk about the following months, what (will) happen and so on. We have changed at the moment and we have a lot of discussions inside the club. It’s not the time now, three days before the final, to talk about the start of the league,” he said.
Asked whether he’ll resign if he fails to win the Nedbank, Middendorp replied: “I told you that whatever you are asking in case of if, (I won’t be answering). I have a contract (of two) years, and I’ll win this cup and that’s our target. I’m not going into it, looking at the options that you are creating now. Please, do me a favour, this is something that I am not asking.”
Middendorp will be without assistant coach Shaun Bartlett, who received a suspension against Chippa in the league. Chiefs have a clean bill of health, except for the absence of captain Itumeleng Khune and youngster Nkosingiphile Ngcobo who were ruled out for the rest of the season.