Steve Komphela will carry not only the burden of expectation that has sat heavily on the shoulders of successive Kaizer Chiefs coaches but also the aspirations of many local tacticians, still squeezed out of the top jobs by a preference for foreign expertise.
The appointment is a dramatic swing in sentiment by Kaizer Motaung, who has made Komphela the first local coach in 23 years to get the job on a full-time basis.
Chiefs have had several of their former players and backroom staff as stand-in coaches to fill the gap left by those either fired or moving on. Even the hard-living Nelson “Teenage” Dladla, who went on to become a firefighter in KwaThema, Ekurhuleni, had a few months on the bench but only as a caretaker while Motaung sought out the next expatriate coach.
Not since Sergio dos Santos moved up from Cape Town for a brief spell in 1992 has Motaung entrusted his beloved club – and fountain of wealth – into the hands of a local. It means that, for the first time after myriad Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Serbs and Turks, and an eccentric Malawian, Chiefs’ fortunes will be conducted by a “homeboy”. No ordinary one, mind you.
Komphela captained South Africa, played every minute of the country’s first 22 internationals and brings with him bags of personality. He has had a good apprenticeship, too. He was a schoolteacher-turned-professional footballer, plucked from the obscurity of the club game at unfashionable QwaQwa Stars after being spotted by one of his predecessors as coach, Jeff Butler.
Jokes in Turkish
He spent a short spell at Chiefs before going on to play in Turkey, where he combined playing with appearances on a television talk show telling jokes in Turkish and singing local folk songs.
He might occasionally get prickly when teased about his tendency towards the verbose – his elaborate and descriptive explanations of the game’s machinations frequently losing the listener long before the sentence is complete – but there is a dignity to his bearing and a humility in his dealings with others.
There will be questions about his past record after two good spells at Free State Stars but disappointing returns at Dynamos, Manning Rangers and Platinum Stars. He won a Cosafa title as coach of the South African under-20 team but flopped when in charge of the under-23s.
But over the past year much of that has been consigned to history as Komphela overhauled the playing staff at Maritzburg and in one season took a new-look team to their first-ever top eight finish and a place in the upcoming MTN8.
An astute thinker, Komphela has definite ideas about the game. He also holds strong opinions about opportunities for locals and will know his appointment is a chance to break ground for many others.
Reluctancy to have local coaches
Club bosses, who have the resources to enjoy a wide choice of coaching options, have traditionally been reluctant to put their club’s fortunes in the hands of locals.
Orlando Pirates recently retained Eric Tinkler as coach on the back of their having qualified for the group phase of the African Confederation Cup, but pointedly still refer to him as “caretaker coach” and have given him no long-term contract or security of tenure.
Mamelodi Sundowns’ decision to give Pitso Mosimane the coach’s job ended Patrice Motsepe’s infatuation with the friends of Barcelona guru Johan Cruijff, with the likes of Hristo Stoichkov and Johan Neeskens getting rare employment opportunities at astronomical salaries from a starstruck Sundowns chair.
Only since the club was turned over to a more serious student of the local game in Mosimane has Sundowns been able to reward its owner with some silverware.
Komphela’s immediate task, when the Chiefs players return from their holidays next week, will be to try to re-establish some calm after the recent turmoil. The club has suffered a serious blow with the departure of Itumeleng Khune, Tefu Mashamaite and Mandla Masango. George Lebese could also be headed to Turkey, where Stuart Baxter wants him for his new club Gençlerbirligi.
Chiefs will need to make some key signings soon, but have been complaining loudly that their overtures always lead to an immediate hiking of the price. For all their glamour and vociferous support, Chiefs are still poor cousins to Sundowns in the transfer market.