Kaizer Chiefs head off on their holidays, after their awards evening next Wednesday, with several loose ends to tie up but with the satisfaction of a job more than well done.
In romping to the Premier Soccer League title, Chiefs set, or came close to breaking, several new records with the number of points amassed, goals conceded and their unbeaten start to the season, which ultimately laid the foundation for their record 12th league championship.
They easily eclipsed the big-spending Mamelodi Sundowns and, in so doing, poured ridicule on Sundowns’ theory that an expansive squad is needed to dominate domestically, as well as compete in African competition.
Both clubs flopped in this year’s African Champions League but Chiefs’ success at home came on the back of a tightly knit squad, which at times looked painfully lightweight.
Chiefs did not play a dominant brand of football, being more keen to be destructive on the transition and proving that overwhelming possession is no conduit to success nor does it bestow upon a team the right to victory. In a sense, they were smarter than the rest of the pack and the margin of their 12-point triumph over the rest of the PSL attests to that.
But now that all the partying is over, the champagne bottles depleted and the ticker tape binned, Chiefs face some tough weeks before their planned return to the training field in the middle of next month.
Much speculation about Baxter
There has been much speculation about the future of coach Stuart Baxter, enough to warrant a rebuttal of whether the coach is to stay for the last year of his contract. Insiders say he will stay but wants several changes for the new season, not least more say in acquisitions and sales.
Chiefs also have to settle new contracts for skipper Tefu Mashamaite, wide players George Lebese and Mandla Masango and goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, which means their plan to pick up where they left off when the teams start their preseason preparations is going to be difficult.
The saga of contracts is always a bit of a poker game with lots of bluffing and bravado. Mashamaite might be able to earn a little bit more elsewhere but at the age of 30 will find it hard to attract a lucrative long-term alternative to Chiefs. Lebese and Masango are also too inconsistent to command a big money move away from the club and will probably end up signing for what they are offered.
The Khune saga is a classic case of the player who held the club hostage now being forced to stomach some of his own medicine.
The former Bafana Bafana captain would not sign a contract renewal earlier this year because he wanted to run off the current deal, expiring next month, and move to pastures greener – as in the colour of foreign currency. But injury and a lack of game time have stymied any hopes of a European move and, with salary demands north of R6-million annually, there are no takers in the domestic market either.
Chiefs know they hold the strongest hand at the table and are using the advantage as best they can.
Old-school managerial wisdom has it that championship success is always best laid in the off-season when managers and administrators lay the groundwork for the club’s campaign to come. Wheeling and dealing should now be the order of the day but far too many of South Africa’s key footballing personalities now take time off and are therefore scrambling to catch up when the new season begins.