OPINION: Germans add some precision to Soweto giants
But since Orlando Pirates followed neighbours Kaizer Chiefs in keeping up with all things German late last year, there has been a breath of fresh air floating around Soweto in recent months.
Between Pirates and Chiefs it’s been almost 10 seasons since an official trophy parade took place in Soweto, considering that Pirates have gone five years without winning a trophy while Chiefs’ failure to bag any silverware stretches back four years.
Well, it’s almost as though it’s a family thing considering that it was actually Pirates that gave birth to Chiefs 50 years ago after former stalwart Kaizer Motaung abandoned the Sea Robbers’ ship to form Amakhosi.
But in a twist of fate, it is the protege who has taught the old dog new tricks this season. This is after Chiefs re-hired coach Ernst Middendorp for a second time late in 2018 following a string of poor results under Italian coach Giovanni Solinas.
Granted, Middendorp’s appointment was met with uproar by Chiefs’ faithful, who deemed his first stint at the club as a failure, despite winning the Absa Cup and SAA Supa8 (now called the Telkom Knockout and MTN8).
Under Middendorp, Chiefs extended their trophy drought to four seasons after losing to NFD side TS Galaxy in the Nedbank Cup final, while the team finished ninth on the PSL standings last term.
The chants calling for Middendorp’s dismissal gained momentum, but a resolute Chiefs board put their heads on the block and backed the 61-year-old for another campaign - which included a pre-season this time - and brought in new faces to boost the squad.
To say that Middendorp has grabbed the opportunity with both hands would be putting it mildly. This season the German has established Chiefs as the front-runners for the league title as they lead Mamelodi Sundowns, who are the defending champions and have a game in hand, by four points.
The Glamour Boys won this season’s quarterly PSL innovation worth R1.5million twice, while Middendorp bagged the Coach of the Month awards on three successive occasions - a first.
But as Chiefs’ gamble appeared to be paying dividends, a close “frenemy” was watching their progress and resurgence under Middendorp with keen interest.
And that is why after interim coach Rhulani Mokwena battled to steer the Sea Robbers’ ship out of troubled waters following the abrupt resignation of Micho Sredojevic, Pirates’ management took the first flight out to Germany to bring in Josef Zinnbauer.
A then unknown figure in international football, with an underwhelming track record, a large portion of the “The Ghost” questioned the appointment of the 50-year-old to a team tipped as championship contenders after finishing as runners-up in the last two seasons.
However, Zinnbauer knew what he had to do to silence his detractors - win.
Pirates were eight points behind Amakhosi, who had a game in hand, before the Covid-19 outbreak, but such has been the club’s resurrection under “JZ” that a continental football qualifying spot remains a huge possibility.