Axe hovers over coaches of underperforming teams
The first round of the Telkom Knockout competition is usually a fairly mundane weekend exercise in the greater scheme of the season, but is shaping up as a day of some reckoning for several beleaguered coaches.
AmaZulu and Bloemfontein Celtic, which lie among the bottom three places in the Premier Soccer League standings and ironically meet each other in the cup in Durban on Saturday night, both have coaches under pressure of possible dismissal if poor returns continue to be posted.
We have reached that restless juncture of the season, two months in and with patterns starting to emerge, that foreshadows a change or two in the coaching department. Several are already resting uneasily in their seats.
AmaZulu have not yet won this season despite consistently reinforcing their side in each of the recent transfer windows. It has left their coach, Craig Rosslee, feeling the most heat.
Celtic, where new owners might be itching to bring in a coach of their own choosing, have a single win in eight outings, which leaves their coach, Ernst Middendorp, also under threat.
Celtic have had a tough set of early season fixtures, but for all his tactical acumen and masterful planning, Middendorp’s lack of a common touch with his players seems to be counting against him.
Similar accusations were also previously levelled at Vladimir Vermezovic, who admitted when he came back to the Premier Soccer League to take charge of Orlando Pirates that he needed to tone down his ruthless streak, as a mutiny or two during his previous stint at Kaizer Chiefs had taught him.
But the former Yugoslavian international fullback remains single-minded in his approach and is disinclined to debate his methods with the shadowy hierarchy at the club, which resulted in a harsh exchange of words with the club’s de facto football director, Stanley “Screamer” Tshabalala, after last weekend’s loss to Chippa United.
This meant that when he had a midweek meeting with Irvin Khoza there was media speculation over whether Vermezovic might be called on the carpet. The coach denied it all, calling the discourse with the Pirates owner “routine”. The truth likely lies somewhere in between.
Vermezovic bemoaned his side’s sudden dip in form over their last two games, including the MTN8 final defeat to Kaizer Chiefs. After losing to Chippa United last weekend, he said he no longer recognised the team and would set about restoring some energy to their play in time for this Sunday’s cup clash at the Orlando Stadium.
Fortunately for Pirates, the assignment against Polokwane City is relatively easy. Even if they don’t find their mojo, they are still likely to be able to win. Pirates were certainly devoid of midfield zip and their usual thundering approach down the wings when they lost in Port Elizabeth last weekend.
All of the usual favourites were handed relatively easy draws this year, which will have delighted the sponsors and television executives.
These include Kaizer Chiefs at home to Maritzburg United on Saturday night at Soccer City, and league champions Mamelodi Sundowns hosting the University of Pretoria the same day.
This is a competition that, in the past, has produced a few unfashionable victors and a series of cup final contests that have been hard to sell to the public.
It is the easiest piece of silverware to win – just four victories to stand on the gold-medal podium – which is why there have been 15 different winners over the 32 years since it started, in comparison with 13 victors of the national cup (these days known as the Nedbank Cup) in 44 years of the competition.
The Nedbank Cup has only one more round of competition than the Telkom Knockout, but this is usually one hurdle too far for many of the under-resourced PSL clubs.