It was celebration time at Kaizer Chiefs’ Naturena home this Wednesday. Kaizer Motaung, the club’s distinguished founder, was turning 75.
A full complement of employees at the ground — from players to admin and cleaning staff — were encouraged to pick up a cone hat, party horn and head to the pitch to sing “Happy birthday, dear chairman”.
The man himself was overseas but a recording of his jovial employees honouring him with cake and morning cheer will no doubt be relayed to him.
Surely there could be no greater gift to him, however, than carrying a trophy through his doors once more?
Not so, according to coach Ernst Middendorp: the club’s drastic improvement this season will be enough to celebrate during this milestone.
“Getting your birthday now,” the German began. “Knowing where you have been three months before you get this birthday. It’s not about a wish only on this honourable day today, it’s more each and everybody bringing this club back to a certain level. We have seen that in the last three or four months and probably what he is wishing is to go further and make more progress.
“I think that’s the biggest thing you can bring as a team — as a technical team — to somebody who has done a fantastic job bringing this brand to such a level over the past 50 years.
“The birthday, and I’m sure I see it right, is just something to sit down and take a bit more time for yourself, having a nice coffee in the morning, and I hope he will have good use of this day,” the coach said.
Middendorp — who we are behoved to report did not strap on a party hat — is not wrong about the evolution of the side. Amakhosi flopped to ninth in the log at the end of last season and also slumped a limp loss to TS Galaxy FC in the Nedbank Cup final — underlining their decline.
Motaung, not one to suffer failure, ensured everybody was back early for preseason so the coaching staff could get to work on moulding a new, winning identity.
So far it looks to have paid off. Chiefs are looking handsome at the top of the table, having lost only once. They also beat Sundowns at the weekend to lift the rescheduled Shell Helix Cup (for whatever that’s worth) and will be overflowing with confidence ahead of their opening Telkom Knockout tie against Cape Town City this Saturday.
The arrival of the competition also brings the chance to refresh the trophy cabinet for the first time in four years. But, again, Middendorp is far more concerned with the process than achievement.
“You didn’t see me running with the cup through the stadium on Saturday, celebrating or whatever,” he pointed out. “You didn’t see me disappointed and showing it when we don’t get the result. I try to be balanced: it’s about the balance, it’s about the progress.
“We still have minutes and periods inside the game where we have to do better. It’s not depending on the Telkom Cup, or PSL, or the Macufe Cup, or the Shell Helix Cup.
“It’s just the game we have to play and each and every game with a team like Kaizer Chiefs … even if you play on the training ground against Moroka Swallows, you have to win, you have to be successful,” Middendorp said.
“This is the mentality that we try and pump into the brain of everybody that is a part of this team — particularly since we started preseason.”
It’s hard to fault the German’s approach — especially with a flurry of branded cups clogging up the fixture list.
Consider that the marquee fixture against Sundowns on October 27 will be the first time the Glamour Boys play a league game since the first of the month. That’s an entire calendar month gone with PSL action only on its fringes. It can’t be easy for a side like Chiefs to build up momentum only to see it crash against the billboard of a new tournament.
But no one is complaining. Not even Middendorp. The need for as much sponsorship as possible is a reality in South Africa. The best any coach can do is to adopt a uniform approach while they navigate through the MTNs and Nedbanks.
For the Soweto giants that process continues on Saturday: it’s up to them to ensure #Kaizer75 remains a joyous occasion.