/ 31 August 2018

Don’t press panic button, says Solinas

Kaizer Chiefs’ new coach Giovanni Solinas with manager Bobby Motaung
Kaizer Chiefs’ new coach Giovanni Solinas with manager Bobby Motaung, players and fans, celebrating winning the Maize Cup 2018 final in July. (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Giovanni Solinas will not be jumping off the sinking ship he inherited in July. On the contrary, he claims he has already turned down a lucrative offer from Qatar.

Given his unwanted reputation for “undependability”, critics have prophesied that the new Kaizer Chiefs coach will not last long once the club’s fans begin to exhibit their infamous short tempers. Frustrations have already begun to flare thanks to the club’s inability to win a game in the league.

The Italian came to Chiefs with a colourful record, having coached clubs mostly in North Africa and the Middle East, achieving historic milestones with some of the clubs. But the stints had always been short-lived, for various reasons.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian at the club’s headquarters in Naturena, south of Johannesburg, Solinas took a stab at his critics, arguing that he was never given a fair chance to clear the air.

“Chiefs fans have nothing to worry about because the reasons I left those clubs were beyond my control,” the charismatic 50-year-old coach says. “When we played Maritzburg United two weeks ago, I received a call from a club in Qatar, who offered to buy me out of the Chiefs contract with big money, but I turned them down.”

For Solinas, it is vital that his employers share the same winning ethos as he does. A struggling but determined Amakhosi outfit is thus a perfect fit for him and he has no desire to trade that in for a higher pay cheque. What he will not accept is complacency, which he says has on more than one occasion persuaded him to move on.

After his appointment as coach of JSM Bejaia in January 2013, for instance, Solinas guided the club to a historic berth in the semifinals of the Confederation of African Football Champions League, but left after the Algerian side decided to cash in on the success.

“I left because they sold all the key players after that glory. I disagreed with that with contempt because the club got too many inexperienced players from the lower divisions. The thing is, the level is different in a premier league and a lower league.

“I warned them that what they were doing was dangerous because we needed the experienced players, at least to combine their expertise with the youngsters. But they refused. I left the club and, soon after my departure, they were relegated.”

Chiefs will take on SuperSport United for the second leg of the MTN8 semifinal on Saturday, a game he has to win to revive the spirit of the Chiefs’ faithful, who endured a dry three-year spell under coach Steve Komphela.

His predecessor, now at Bloemfontein Celtic, is a large part of the reason that there has been so much pressure on Solinas from the first whistle. The club’s fans expressed their frustrations in some hideous stadium incidents last season and you feel that anger is never far from bubbling to the surface. They’re desperate for a trophy and Solinas may just see his critics doubled if he loses this weekend.

“It’s important that we win this Cup but, you know, we’ll qualify for the final first. So it’s a long road but it’s workable.

“I know I have to win trophies. But Guardiola of Manchester City and Pitso [Mosimane] of Sundowns didn’t win the league in the first season. But look at them now — they are winning everything.”