Khompela’s ‘final’ chance with Kaizer Chiefs

Knockout blow: Steve Khompela knows the Chiefs fans expect victory.
Knockout blow: Steve Khompela knows the Chiefs fans expect victory.

Steve Komphela had to fight back the tears, his eyes moist and his bottom lip quivering as he slumped down, looking utterly exhausted, after Kaizer Chiefs had edged out Orlando Pirates last month for a place in the Telkom Knockout final.

It was, as he explained later, all a little overwhelming, symptomatic of the burden of expectation at a club with a list of silverware that is unparalleled in the South African game.

Komphela was appointed to South African football’s dream job in June and is obviously cognisant of its heavy responsibilities and demands, particularly the healthy appetite for a regular churn of silverware – a diet the Chiefs fans have become used to over the past four decades.

Chiefs gambled on Komphela, breaking with a long-held policy of employing only foreign coaches, and the 48-year-old from Kroonstad knows he must deliver. Wednesday’s final against Mamelodi Sundowns in Durban is his second opportunity in just a matter of months since taking over.

Although failure in the first final might have been met with a stoical acceptance, failure again will be the signal for the vultures to begin circling.

It is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast, and Komphela, with his intimate knowledge of the local game, is only too aware of what is required. Hence the brief burst of emotion when his team overcame Pirates in the semifinal, just a week after they had been outplayed in the league derby between the two Soweto giants.

Chiefs were also outdone in the MTN8 final in September when they lost to a far superior Ajax Cape Town side, and this next test against Sundowns also has the potential to be a tactical challenge.

He will pit his wits against his colleague and friend Pitso Mosimane, who employed Komphela as his deputy when he was national team coach from 2010 to 2012.

Chiefs have changed from the side that, under previous coach Stuart Baxter, would have been happy to allow Sundowns swaths of possession and seek to catch them with swift counterattacks. Now they are set up with much the same philosophy, which, unless there is a radical change of mind-set from either coach, could ensure an entertaining tussle.

Save for the absence of Itumeleng Khune, now back training after recent knee surgery but still weeks away from a return to the competitive arena, and possibly Teko Modise, both clubs will be at full strength, pitting many of the country’s top talent together on the same pitch.

It means we could delight in diminutive Khama Billiat taking on Mulomowandau “Tower” Mathoho, or a tasty midfield battle between Willard Katsande and Hlompho Kekana.

With little to choose between the personnel on either side, this is a game that could come down to the choice of tactics on the day – or the right mental psyche needed for the pressure of the occasion.