Kaizer Chiefs still have a point to prove

What a difference a year makes. Last year around this time, Kaizer Motaung was mourning the death of his first-born son, Thabo. Another son, Bobby, was facing criminal charges relating to the building of the Mbombela stadium.

His club's greatest rivals Orlando Pirates were sweeping everything before them, prompting the Kaizer Chiefs faithful to accuse the club of having lost its ambition and drive.

This year everything has changed, with the visionary Motaung being recognised for more than just his contribution to the game: last month President Jacob Zuma conferred the Order of Ikhamanga upon him. The Black Business Executive Circle also honoured him for developing the club into one of the most recognisable and profitable business brands in the country.

This weekend the man they called Chincha Guluva in his playing days will take the honour he has coveted most – the Premier Soccer League (PSL) champions' trophy, regardless of how the encounter with University of Pretoria goes.

Next week he could equal the act if his club beats SuperSport United in the Nedbank Cup final.

Chiefs' achievements are a tribute to Motaung's vision and leadership.

Idle words
"We want to reclaim the cup kings' mantle from Pirates," Motaung told the Sunday Times at the beginning of the season. "It's not just about winning next season but about sustainable growth. That was the overriding factor in hiring [former South African national coach Stuart] Baxter, for him to run two parallel processes: reclaiming the glory days, and laying the foundation for an academy that is going to be a trajectory of talent for sustainable success."

Chiefs' fans and foes did not need to wait long to realise these were not idle words. The club went on a shopping spree and possibly spent more than anyone, including the perennial big spenders Mamelodi Sundowns, in creating a team that would "reclaim the glory".  

The club acquired three defenders – Siboniso Gaxa, Eric Mathoho and Tsepo Masilela – to form, with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, four of a possible Bafana Bafana starting five.

Another Bafana player, Siyabonga Nkosi, returned from a spell in Israel.

The team scored six in their first league match, with Bernard Parker helping himself to four.

Finished goods
With the glory all but reclaimed, the next project will be turning the Chiefs' young turks into finished goods and thus infuse in other youngsters the feeling that they too have a future at the club.

If one had to go out of one's way to find fault with the Chiefs' magnificent season, it would be that Motaung's passion for youth was deemed a secondary priority. Chiefs have not introduced many youngsters to the team this season but George Lebese has shown glimpses of coming of age.

Goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo has the misfortune of being number two to the country's number one. His time will come but patience must be running out for another with huge potential, Mandla Masango.

Having scored on debut for Chiefs in August 2007, a lot was expected from Masango. At 23, the Middleburg-born midfielder with the rare distinction of having scored on debut for all three national youth teams, is fast losing the opportunity to shine as a youngster.

Compare Motaung's visionary leadership with Chippa Mpengesi's eponymously named club's disastrous season. They are certain to be relegated, with their only hope being that they might get a second chance to fight for their premiership status by playing in the relegation-promotion playoffs if Black Leopards lose their match against Free State Stars and Chippa beat AmaZulu.

Unlike Motaung, Mpengesi talked big at the beginning of the season but did not back his big words with intelligent signings or decisions.

Mpengesi's contribution
Buoyed by two consecutive seasons in which they won promotions from their tier to arrive in the PSL within two years of the club being founded, Mpengesi must have thought he had arrived.

"This is just the beginning of what is about to happen. The old mentality of thinking you have to be spending five years before you can compete in the higher football fraternity is gone – things are new now.

"We are a new South Africa. Those olden days of football are gone. The players are happy. I was looking after them, having the unity, having a good coaching staff. We want to see how we can chase the premiership title. Our goal is to go to Africa."

Other than getting Brent Carelse during the first transfer window, he sat on his laurels and dreamt on. The club lured the classy but old legs of former Manchester City forward Benjani Mwaruwari. He has contributed a miserly one goal since he joined in February.

The signs were there for all to see. Mpengesi was the club boss to fire the gaffer, achieving the dubious honour by dismissing coach Manqoba Mngqithi after two matches. Mpengesi went on to fire three more coaches in a season during which he showed all the crassness of a life-long peasant who had just won the lottery. By the time the season ends on Saturday, the club will have gone through four coaches and a bunch of players so dazed they might struggle to enjoy football again.

In the end, Mpengesi's contribution to the game might be for other upstarts like him to realise that climbing up the ladder is not the hardest part of the job. It is staying there. In the event that his club somehow wins a reprieve, he would do well to book an appointment with Motaung and ask him what he meant when he said: "It's not just about winning next season but about sustainable growth."

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