JOHANNESBURG – Aware of the team’s shortcomings under his tutelage in the second half of last season, Kazier Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp believes having a balanced starting line-up this upcoming term will enable them to compete on all fronts.
In December last year, the German tactician returned for his second stint at the club wearing the cap of the “saviour” who would help the team avoid a fourth season without silverware.
Regardless of the inconsistent results, the plans of pursuing that feat got off to a fine start - the team playing with confidence and desire.
However, that was short-lived as injuries to key team members, such as Itumeleng Khune, Ramahlwe Mphahlele and Lebogang Manyama early in the second half of the season, halted their progress.
Middendorp was then forced to field his “B-team.”
The absence of integral first team players could not be ignored as the season came to a close. Chiefs finished ninth in the Absa Premiership - the first time since 2007 that has happened, the last time ironically also under Middendorp. They were then defeated by NFD side TS Galaxy in the final of the Nedbank Cup.
“The main priority is to get these (key) players to the maximum level of performance of what they can contribute,” Middendorp said.
“We have to find a certain ‘core’, that’s important for us. Let’s say seven, eight players, we had to ask, ‘are they playing or not?’ It wasn’t possible. There were a lot of parameters that we couldn’t influence. A very clear structure for us is to find eight-plus players who we are not talking about changing, they are the back-line, centre-midfield and forward players.
“And they should have the right attitude, direction and leadership abilities of where we want to go and do. But that was not possible for us (last season).”
Part of Middendorp’s motivation to stay at the helm for the new season was the chance to have a full pre-season with his players.
Middendorp has also bolstered his squad with four international players - Serbian Samir Nurkovic, Ghanaian James Kotei, Zambian Lazarous Kambole and the Durban-born, Australian-raised Kearyn Baccus.
“Kaizer Chiefs is not a one man show but it is in terms of blaming, I am aware about it,” Middendorp stated. “We have a very clear structure inside this big brand, having scouts and identification before decisions are made.
It was important to put some parameters into it. We wanted to see that these players have not been handicapped by injuries or dust-binned by other clubs, and they’ve played more than 30 games for former clubs.”
While the Glamour Boys will begin the new Premiership campaign away to Highlands Park on August 4, they’ll get a chance to fine-tune their last details for the campaign in the pre-season Carling Black Label Cup clash against Orlando Pirates on Saturday.
However, with the starting line-ups selected by the supporters and with no Soweto derby considered a friendly, Middendorp is hoping his Bafana Bafana internationals, who’ve just returned from the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, will be able to handle the match.
“Bruce (Bvuma), Daniel (Cardoso) and Rama (Mphahlele), came back this week into training session. But they have to play and start because they’ve been voted. It’s bit of a challenge for the players but we’ll handle it,” Middendorp concluded.