Which old cocks will crow?

This time last year Muhsin Ertugral was calm and affable. He was clocking success after success with Ajax Cape Town, whose players he called his chickens—mostly because of their youth.

It was around this time that he was preparing for the Telkom Cup final, the first of two finals to which he led his chickens last season.

Unfortunately, his chickens didn’t fare well against an inspired Silver Stars (as Platinum Stars were known then), falling to a Hareaipha Marumo hat-trick.

But, even in defeat, the chickens had enough self-belief to get back up to win the Absa Cup, beating the fancied Mamelodi Sundowns in the final.

Fast forward to December 2007. Ertugral’s only relationship with chickens now is when they’re on his dinner plate in a restaurant.
He left his Ajax chickens with former youth coach Craig Roslee and joined Kaizer Chiefs.

Against Orlando Pirates last week, he started with five players on the wrong side of 30: captain Cyril Nzama (32), Fabian McCarthy (30), Thabo Mooki (33), Arthur Zwane (34) and Shaun Bartlett (35). Others in the starting 11 included Jimmy Tau (27), Gerald Sibeko (29) and a relative youngster, 25-year-old Mabhuti Khanyeza.

Now the tranquillity of Cape Town is gone. Ertugral is back to his irritable self. And this is not helped by Roslee’s Ajax chickens going from strength to strength. While Chiefs are 11th on the log, his former charges top the standings.

With luck, Saturday’s Telkom Cup final against Sundowns—which kicks off at 8pm—will give Ertugral a chance not only to overturn last year’s loss in the finals, but also to buy much-needed time to bring in some young blood to the Chiefs. He has done this successfully before. Siyabonga Nomvete, Jabu Pule (as he then was) and the talented, but injury-prone, Nhlanhla Kubheka came into their own under Ertugral’s watch.

One thing that might cheer Ertugral is that Sundowns also has an older side. The mainstay of the side are 30 or older or certainly closer to 30 than 20.

Godfrey Sapula and Peter Ndlovu are 34. The youthful-looking Josta Dladla is 28, and Esrom Nyandoro and Surprise Morisi are 27. Goalkeepers Brian Baloyi (33) and Calvin Marlin (31) are, in goalie terms, relative spring chickens, but they have clocked up lots of mileage.

Saturday’s final should be an equal measure of experience versus experience — a far cry from last season when Ajax’s youthful zest won each of the four games they played against Sundowns.

If he leads the team to a win, the pressure will be off Ertugral. It will give him time to bring those much-needed youngsters into the side, youngsters such as Tshepo Bulu (23), Sihle Mbambo (18) and Mandla Masango (18).

What is in Ertugral’s favour going into this final is that Kaizer Chiefs have won the last five cup finals when their opposition were the Brazilians.

Player for player, Sundowns have a better team. Even the most unreasonable Chiefs fans would concede as much. In fact Sundowns have a better squad all round than any other PSL side.

Maybe it’s their myriad supporters, vocal and passionate, but even at their worst, Chiefs always manage to lift their game. They have been doing so since the Seventies and there is no reason to doubt they will do so this weekend.

Not that Sundowns will take things lying down. It would give coach Gordon Igesund huge satisfaction to put one over his nemesis, Ertugral, especially after the beating Sundowns got in last year’s Absa Cup from Ertugral’s Ajax chickens.

Last weekend’s Soweto derby set the standard. Fans will expect a high-tempo match. Both teams want to win. Both teams will go all out to ensure they hold the cup up high at the end of the night.

Ertugral needs this one more than Igesund and will have history on his side. But, having been humiliated by Sundowns four times in the past, Igesund will surely warn Ertugral not to count his chickens before they hatch.

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