JOHANNESBURG – What has almost gone unnoticed in the build-up to this afternoon’s sold-out Soweto Derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs is that the latter hasn’t won a game in open play in three outings.
A lot of the focus has been on what the Buccaneers assistant coach Rhulani Mokwena said about Amakhosi tactician Giovanni Solinas – that it’s his squad that makes him look good, not his technical ability.
Solinas chose not to respond, only willing to say these comments took him by surprise, and that perhaps journalists are responsible for blowing this out of all proportion because “coaches don’t talk in this manner”.
The truth is that all this has overshadowed the fact that Chiefs, although third on the Absa Premiership standings after nine matches, have hit a bit of dry spell.
They were held to a goalless draw by Highlands Park and then lost 1-0 to Polokwane City in the league, before beating Black Leopards on penalties to progress to the quarter-finals of the Telkom Knockout last weekend.
Prior to that, the Glamour Boys looked to have been finally adjusting to coach Solinas’ methods by picking up wins over Cape Town City (4-1), Free State Stars (2-0) and AmaZulu (2-0) before the Fifa break last month, even earning the Italian mentor the Coach of the Month accolade.
They say current form doesn’t count for much during the Soweto Derby, but this really isn’t a factor these days. You are as good as your last game.
“To win the derby, psychologically, it’s very important,” Solinas said this week.
“The impact to the team is massive. But you know, in this job, in football, the players and the coach need balance, mental balance. So we need to keep strong.
“Pirates are a good team. As you know, last season they did very well and ended in second position, and now they will participate in the African Champions League (while Chiefs have had to settle for the less prestigious, but still credible, Confederation Cup) this season.
“They have improved and they bought good players. It’s just too good a team.”
In the midst of all the #SowetoDerby excitement, please be extra cautious with your vehicles and belongings. Parking is free in designated areas.#HailTheChief #Amakhosi4Life pic.twitter.com/p1TLjVCKhp
This will be Solinas’ first time in front of the expected 82 000 capacity crowd at FNB Stadium in his coaching career.
He revealed this week that the most he’d ever seen in a stadium while sitting in the dugout was 18 000 during his brief spell in charge of ES Setif in Algeria some eight years ago.
A win over the Buccaneers will also be his first big scalp as Amakhosi coach following a draw in their league opener away to reigning champions Mamelodi Sundowns, defeat to Wits and being eliminated by SuperSport in the MTN8.
He will face that same team again in the quarter-finals of the Telkom Knockout in a week’s time.