Where art thou, Ernst Middendorp?

Has anyone seen Ernst Middendorp? There’s a line of folks that would like to have words with the Kaizer Chiefs coach.

His absence was noticeable as assistant Shaun Bartlett arrived in his stead at the Carling Black Label Cup media event at Park Station on Wednesday afternoon. Comedian and back-up MC at the event Skhumba soon went beyond the genteel nature of the event and remarked that he’s already been sacked.

After falling to TS Galaxy a week ago in the Nedbank Cup final to confirm another trophyless season, it’s the general consensus of what will happen assuming it hasn’t already.

No, no said Bartlett, the not-so-gregarious Middendorp didn’t show up because it was actually the assistants that were invited. Orlando Pirates coach Milutin Sredojević was only there because his couldn’t make it.

Whether he’s covering for the German or not, Bartlett’s position is not an enviable one. With his club in flux, it falls on him to bat away all questions until the situation becomes clearer.

“Criticisms and opinions will always be given, we need to make sure we use them to our benefit,” he said while backstage at the event. “Coming in at the middle of the season is never easy for anyone. It takes time to adapt and analyse what’s happening in the club.

“The last six months have us a good indication of who we can use and who can be the core of this team going forward. Bringing young players into the squad always has a flipside because we need to produce results and Kaizer Chiefs is a club that is about winning silverware. Our philosophy still maintains that we need to bring young players into the team because we need to freshen it up a little bit and maybe bring in players with a different hunger and desire going forward.”

The former Bafana Bafana striker also revealed a few talented players have already been identified for possible purchase, the names of which he of course couldn’t say. What he did insist, however, was that there will be no silver bullet among the recruits that will solve the club’s deep-seeded issues.

“Listen, we can’t fool ourselves into thinking we can go from ninth into winning the league. You have to take baby steps and keep introducing you players and integrate those players with the experienced ones and gradually you can work your way up to the top spot.”

Before we can get to that stage, Amakhosi will have to decide if Middendorp is the right man to carry them forward. Until they make an obvious gesture of his authority, everyone will kind of just assume he’s felt the axe already.

For his part, Bartlett is quite happy to continue working under the German taskmaster.

“No one will realise the amount of work the man puts in. He’s up at 2am and sending me emails at 4am – that’s what he’s all about. That’s why I enjoy working with him, because everything is into detail. Every match, every training session.”

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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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