/ 2 November 2018

Does Solinas have balls to reinvent?

Midfield mainstay: Willard Katsande
Midfield mainstay: Willard Katsande, here in action during the Soweto derby last week, is a vital cog in the stuttering Kaizer Chiefs machine. (Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)

‘We are Kaizer Chiefs,” rang out the ­rallying cry of coach ­Giovanni Solinas at the team’s Naturena training ground this week.

“We need to show character, we need to show balls. This is the moment to show the character, show the balls. Fight for this badge, this colour, for this club, for our fans. This is the moment to fight. Never give up.”

The Italian has made no attempt to hide how much the Soweto derby loss last weekend bothers him. He tugged at the loose skin on his forearm to demonstrate the indignation that had crawled beneath it. The tears he saw in the faces of fans in yellow and black have deeply disturbed him.

What Solinas would do well to acknowledge, however, is that no one is overly interrogating his ­commitment to Amakhosi — or the size of his gonads. Rather, it’s his inability to drum his side into a ­persistent rhythm that’s capable of routinely breaking down the opposition that’s in question.

That the attacking line-up is regularly altered is not helping anything. In fact, given three different centre-back pairings over the past four games, consistency is not a word that would be used when looking at the team as a whole.

“The injury forced me to change,” the coach insisted. “I don’t want to change formations. It’s not my choice. It’s because the players are out.”

With Lebogang Manyama and Leonardo Castro, in particular, sidelined for extended periods there’s certainly truth to that. Two goals in four games, however, rule that out as a legitimate excuse. Especially when two ducks were yielded against Highlands Park and Polokwane City and that penalties were required to overcome a 34th-minute Black Leopards strike.

SuperSport United in the Telkom Knockout on Sunday must be viewed as an opportunity to establish a uniform approach. Aside from Manyama, the build-up to full strength in the front positions is almost complete and that presents the chance to implement some much-needed creativity.

Solinas further bragged that Chiefs enjoyed 57% possession in the opening 30 minutes against Orlando Pirates. The passing was slick and dangerous, but evidently had an expiration date on its unpredictability. Instead of being buoyed by Itumeleng Khune keeping out Justin Shonga’s nervy penalty, they became flat and languid. Castro and Khama Billiat’s later withdrawals left them devoid of ideas.

Buccaneers assistant coach Rhulani Mokwena’s trolling remarks about the Glamour Boys missing the tactical acumen of Steve Komphela made backpage headlines last week, but it was his analysis of Willard Katsande that was arguably more damaging. He reasoned, and he’s certainly not alone in this opinion, that the Zimbabwean is the one figure who’s consistently relied upon to bring stability to the midfield. It falls to Katsande to provide an anchor to both launch attacks from and intelligently recycle possession when the game scenario calls for it.

The obvious downside to over- reliance, of course, is that it provides an obvious target to exploit.

For all their ability, Billiat, Castro, Bernard Parker and Dumisani Zuma are not the players you look for with the first ball after a turnover. Combine that with an erratic backline that is hesitant playing out of the back, and you know more often than not you’ll be looking for Katsande. Siphelele Ntshangase, meanwhile, has been able to operate so efficiently as a number 10 at times this season because of that pillar behind him.

“No, but Katsande’s not Kaizer Chiefs,” the humble midfielder objected when it was put to him. “Kaizer Chiefs is Kaizer Chiefs; it’s not an individual. I don’t believe in that, because I’m just a ball winner in the midfield and I give it to those who know how to use the ball — those who are skilful and take the ball going ­forward. You can’t say ‘you need to neutralise Katsande to win a match’. That would be unfair and disrespectful to my teammates to hear such comments like that.”

He was never going to admit it but the evidence is hard to debate.

Solinas’s main priority this weekend has to be to develop better triangles in midfield and routes from the back that can’t be picked off so easily.

With Dean Furman out for Matsatsantsa, now may be the ideal time to make an experimental move to gain control of the centre of the chess board, so to speak.

On the other hand, a stagnant approach will knock the Italian out of the competition and immediately fall flat on his latest promise: “We need to repay our fans after the derby. Because after derby I apologise and say sorry to our fans. Please forgive us. We will fight in the field to repay them.”