Given that Kaizer Chiefs coach Giovanni Solinas owes Free State Stars for being a familiar face in SA football, the Italian took time before the two sides meet in the MTN8 quarterfinals on Saturday to reminisce.
But he quickly made it clear that his friends will no doubt turn into foes at Soccer City as he takes on his first big challenge as Amakhosi coach.
“This club represents the part of my life I can never forget,” Solinas said about Ea Lla Koto, who hired him as an unknown back in December 2016.
“I have a good relationship with everyone there. We played them recently in the Maize Cup (a pre-season friendly) and I went to greet everyone, all the way to the kit manager. I have a good memory of my time there. I am grateful to them, the Mokoena family, for the big opportunity they gave me. So this is a special game for me.”
Solinas had two separate and very brief spells with the Bethlehem outfit (all between December 2016 and January 2017) before he disappeared into oblivion and then suddenly emerging as an unexpected choice for the Chiefs coaching job late last month – several days before Amakhosi began their pre-season.
He acknowledged that a lot has changed not only in the Premier Soccer League, but even more so at Stars since he was last at the helm.
Stars have managed to hold on to their maverick coach Luc Eymael, who guided them to a remarkable sixth place finish in the Absa Premiership after four back-to-back seasons battling to avoid relegation. He also helped them clinch the Nedbank Cup in May, a trophy which secured their spot in the CAF Confederation Cup.
While Solinas was there, Stars reached two cup semifinals, survived the drop to the lower division – and that’s all she wrote.
“Unfortunately, with all the history, this will be a tough game. They are a good team, strong physically, with good players and last season’s surprise package,” the Amakhosi mentor explained. “In the last two seasons, the league here in SA has increased its level to a good and balanced level. There are no easy games now, every game is difficult and needs good concentration as well as preparation.”
Solinas appeared to get off to a satisfactory start to his tenure at Naturena when his men held off league champions Mamelodi Sundowns to a 1-1 draw at Loftus last weekend. But Bidvest Wits then gave him a rude awakening on Tuesday night, the Glamour Boys hammered 3-1 in their own backyard, much to the fans’ horror.
“Yes, we analysed the defeat against Wits and realised our mistakes. But if I look at the stats, we were dominant – 75 percent of the ball possession against 25 percent for Wits. What does this mean? We were in control, but did not convert,” said Solinas.
“We need to play around the opponent’s box next time. We need to improve our finishing because we created those chances. We must learn from the Wits game. If we are intelligent, then we use this game as a lesson for our future games. Sometimes in football one defeat is much better than a good victory so that you, if you are intelligent, can use it for the future so you can fix the mistakes.”