Can Chiefs use MTN8 to get back on track?

It must be exciting to be a Kaizer Chiefs fan. Imagine waking up every gameday without knowing what to expect from your team. Excellence? Failure? Hilarity? All are equally likely when you throw on your favourite yellow-and-black shirt.

After threatening stability in the opening game of the Premier Soccer League, the Glamour Boys swiftly proceeded to regress to the team that fell over itself at the finish line last season.

The draw against Sundowns at Loftus was a solid result. Bar a few spurned Khama Billiat runs, their threat wasn’t overly discernible but they ensured the champions were subdued. It set the right tone.

Those same notes went missing three days later. The BidVest Wits game was a disaster, proving the road to major honours will have plenty of winding detours.

This weekend’s MTN8 represents an opportunity to hit the right notes. After his rather late appointment, coach Giovanni Solinas was always going to struggle to make an immediate impact with this team. Now, with only three games to a final, the competition will allow the Italian to experiment, nail down his preferred set-up andpossibly also capturea morale-boosting trophy.

Full-back Ramahlwe Mphahlele, on the sidelines of the MTN8’s launch event at Park Station last week, revealed Solinas is not wasting time in implementing the club mission to rekindle past triumphs.

“He’s a very aggressive coach; he wants perfection, he wants us to work hard, he wants a change in that mentality,” he said. “Three years is not nice for Kaizer Chiefs but we’ll keep fighting. If we as players give up then who’s going to bring the trophy? No one else is going to bring it; it’s us.”

It is those three lean years that will probably ensure the pressure continues to shadow the new coach’s every move. Steve Komphela brought nothing to the trophy cabinet in that time, stumbling when the situation demanded that his team rise high. By the end of his tenure, some of the fans were even willing to remove him bodily from the position.

Evidently, some tried. The Amakhosi support base was the subject of some despicable violence last season. Most notably, the Nedbank Cup semifinal against Saturday’s opponents Free State Stars delivered horrific scenes of stadium fires, vandalised TV cameras and beaten stewards.

Memories of being pelted with projectiles will not easily escape the players’ minds and Mphahlele admitted that it is an added motivation going into this one.

“We’re playing Free State Stars; they’re a very good team with a very good coach,” he said. “They beat us last season in the semifinals of the Nedbank. You guys know what happened after that game — they threw bottles and chairs at us.

“It’s a new season. The nice thing about football is it always gives you another opportunity to try and win again.”

With all three goals from Wits on Tuesday, the Chiefs’ defence was sucked out of position too easily. They drifted out to the ball carrier without giving appropriate consideration to the runs being made around them. Solinas was probably given a thorough rebuke by Daniel Cardoso and Eric Mathobo for that — he can rightly expect far better from the experienced pair.

It’s creaks in that vein that he will hope to silence on Saturday. For him, the MTN8 is great timing. He has felt the temperature of the PSL and now he can jump out of the water for a weekend and test his gear. He does so knowing that, should he slip, it’s unlikely he’ll be given the time Komphela was.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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