JOHANNESBURG – The appointment of Ernst Middendorp as head coach suggests that the Kaizer Chiefs hierarchy have lost touch, or worse yet, don't really care about the opinion of their supporters.
Of course it would be disrespectful to judge the German before he's even started, but based on the major backlash over the past few days, his arrival is not a popular one, and to say that he’s starting on the back foot would be an understatement.
When Giovanni Solinas' departure broke on Friday afternoon, there was celebration, many hoping this might be the beginning of a new dawn for the club, management having realised their mistakes, and now willing to fork out big money to bring in a big and proven name.
The fans had wanted an upgrade for Christmas, someone with new innovations, fresh energy, and a track record of recent success. Instead, they got a refurbished model, and they've been throwing their toys out the cot ever since. Like a couple of supporters wrote on a social media platform, the general interpretation seems to be that the club has 'replaced a fridge with an ice box'.
How does Middendorp even begin to work after this kind of reception? Unless he wins the league, which looks unlikely bar a major turn-around, or the Nedbank Cup or the Confederation Cup, this is an appointment which appears doomed from the outset. Not because he's a poor coach, but because of the timing of his arrival, and the situation the club is currently in.
Indeed, who would want to be in Middendorp's shoes right now? He has signed a 30-month deal at a time of general unease, which comes as a result of the club’s loyalty to Steve Komphela despite his failure to win a trophy in three years, followed by the surprising hiring of the underwhelming Solinas, who lasted less than five months.
One can understand Amakhosi's desire to bring in someone who knows the PSL, and the club, having had a previous spell with Chiefs around 13 years ago. However, this will only fuel the notion that Middendorp is expected to hit the ground running as far as results are concerned. That’s expecting a lot. Would a clean slate not have been the way to go?
He wasn't the most popular of coaches in his last spell either; despite winning two cup competitions in a two-season stay between 2005 and 2007, Chiefs lost ground in the league during that period, with the coach being dubbed 'Middendraw' after 14 league draws in the 2005/ 06 campaign, which saw them ending third, before slipping down to ninth a year later.
Anything less than a storming start of victories accompanied by scintillating football, and fans will quickly be onto the new coach's back. Middendorp will have absolutely no grace period; a couple of early defeats or draws, and the pressure will ratchet up rapidly.
And while his previous work in the PSL should be respected, Middendorp is known more as a pragmatic tactician, rather than an innovator or a charismatic man-manager. The club were surely crying out for an endearing coach with a trophy-laden CV, someone who could galvanise both the players and the supporters with a fresh outlook, no matter the financial cost.
In appearing to ignore what their fans want, club management seem to have forgotten just how crucial the role is which supporters play in creating a positive energy, be it at the stadiums, or on media platforms. This in turn transcends to the players, who hear that discontent during matches, and read about it online.
In a period when Amakhosi's home games at the FNB Stadium are attracting increasingly sparse crowds, with last season's crowd riot in Durban still fresh in the memory, surely at this point of the club's great history, it would have been a wise idea to get the supporters back on board by appeasing them with a more illustrious manager, be that someone from abroad or a local man?
With some exceptions, many of Chiefs' player signings over the past few years have been relative unknowns, or PSL journeymen, largely seen as 'bargain buys', with few and far between proving a hit. Now Middendorp is being viewed by supporters as another cheap and convenient option.
At 60-years-old, and having been out of work as a coach for around two years after his last few seasons in the PSL were spent at smaller teams such as Chippa United, Bloemfontein Celtic, Maritzburg United, Golden Arrows and Free State Stars, he was hardly in demand, and is unlikely to have been anywhere near the top end of the club's budget.
It's in large part due to Amakhosi's massive fan base (on the back of their historic successes) that they're able to attract huge sponsorships, and for many, Middendorp's appointment has been nothing less than a slap in the face.
If there was ever a time that the Glamour Boys needed to go out and make a statement by head-hunting a big-name, and thereby consolidating their position as one of the continent's biggest institutions and most successful teams domestically, this must have been it.
Former Al Ahly coach Patrice Carteron was on the top of many fans' wish-lists and seemed like the kind of coach Chiefs should have been looking for.
Someone such as Carteron, or a Herve Renard type of character, even former Orlando Pirates coach Ruud Krol, would likely have rejuvenated spirits in the Chiefs family. He would have started with a blank canvas, and with the fans happy and on board at least initially. He would have been give more breathing space to build a team, to stamp his mark, and to adapt to the PSL. Middendorp is unlikely to be afforded any leeway whatsoever.
In short, Middendorp is going to have to pull off a footballing miracle with a bunch of players who for the most part look disjointed and uncertain of themselves. If not, this has all the makings of another disaster, and another step backwards for South Africa's most popular team.
African News Agency (ANA)