JOHANNESBURG – Ernst Middendorp is turning Kaizer Chiefs into a “practice field” for the club’s development graduates this season, but arch-rivals Orlando Pirates could be closing in soon.
Merely four months into the job, the German coach has made Bruce Bvuma, Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya, Siyabonga Ngezana, Happy Mashiane and Nkosingiphile Ngcobo integral parts of the first team.
But a discerning Pirates supporter will be troubled that they’ve had nothing to pride themselves with in almost four successive seasons, while their cross-town rivals are bearing the fruits of their labour.
Chiefs’ strongest point has been having club legend Arthur Zwane as their MultiChoice Diski Challenge coach for the last three seasons.
On the other hand, the Pirates coaching department has been inconsistent.
In the five seasons since the reserve league’s inception, the Bucs have had seven coaches – Augusto Palacios, Zipho Dlangalala, Reyaad Jacobs, Benson Mhlongo, Philani Kubheka, Mandla Qhogi and currently Michael Loftman.
However, judging from their performance this season, there seems to be a storm of success brewing under the tutelage of their latest recruit Loftman.
The English-born coach, who took over the reins from Qhogi after losing four of the first five matches of the season, has brought a breath of fresh air into the reserves.
In his first tenure in the league, Loftman propelled the Bucs to 20 points out of 30 – finishing 10th on the log, 12 points behind log leaders and eventual winners Bloemfontein Celtic.
He might have finished the league with no silverware or promotion of a player into the reserves, but he’s responsible for the resurrection of the club’s No 1 Wayne Sandilands.
You see, after falling down the pecking order due to a blunder against Highlands Park in the season opener at Orlando Stadium, Sandilands’ career with the club was in limbo as he was demoted to the reserves.
Jackson Mabokgwane and Siyabonga Mpontshane exchanged the No 1 jersey for coach Micho Sredojevic’s side.
In the reserves, Sandilands was welcomed by the young, but experienced Loftman, who refined him into a rejuvenated, confident and hungry goalie that fought his way back to the seniors.
Sandilands made a late entry into the Caf Champions League squad, while completely dethroning Mabokgwane and Mpotshane for the No 1 jersey in all competitions.
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Loftman might be a 28-year-old coach, but he is a Uefa A Licence holder, while at home in England, he was a development coach at Tottenham Hotspur and the sports scientist at Watford.
He might also be Pirates’ senior team performance analyst, but at 24, he was the senior team’s coach for Zambian outfit Lusaka Dynamos.
Despite that immense success, and like any other coach, he’ll be banking on the collection of silverware to do the talking.
And he’ll not be looking any further than this season’s MultiChoice Diski Shield as a first chapter of rewriting his history in PSL.
It’s been a bright start for Pirates in the Diski Shield, as they are top of Group A with maximum points (six) from the last two matches, while they’ll merely need a point against Chiefs on Sunday, in the last round of group stage matches, to qualify for semi-finals.
Achieving that feat will also eliminate Chiefs from the competition.