Gap to top two gets wider for Chiefs

Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp during the Absa Premiership match between Chippa United and Kaizer Chiefs at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images)

Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp during the Absa Premiership match between Chippa United and Kaizer Chiefs at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images)

Kaizer Chiefs play in the Nedbank Cup final on Saturday and in normal circumstances, there would be some kind of redemption for Amakhosi, if they were to lift a first piece of silverware in four seasons.

And yet it is hard to feel anything but embarrassment at Chiefs’ 2018-19 campaign, whether or not they lift the trophy at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban.

For starters, Chiefs would be expected to beat National First Division side TS Galaxy on any given day. It is a side that have surely surprised even themselves in reaching a major cup final in their first season in existence.

But more than this, Kaizer Chiefs, the most popular side in South Africa, have finished ninth in the Absa Premiership, an absolute shambles of an effort and one that means, obviously, that they will not play in the 2019 MTN8.

This is a club that brought in Khama Billiat, for so long Mamelodi Sundowns’ star man, at the start of the season, to link up with his former Masandawana teammate Leonardo Castro, who joined Chiefs in January 2018.

Add in Ramahlwe Mphahlele, who joined Chiefs in 2016, and you have three pedigreed former Sundowns players who have won titles in Choorklop.

And yet Chiefs have not only failed to bridge the gap to Sundowns, it has got wider.

Simply looking at the last three seasons, in the 2016-17 campaign, Chiefs finished seven points behind Mamelodi Sundowns, and 10 behind champions Bidvest Wits.

The following campaign, they trailed in Masandawana’s wake by 12 points, as Pitso Mosimane’s side got their Premiership title back from the Clever Boys.

And this season, Chiefs finished up an astonishing 20 points behind the Brazilians, leapfrogged on the final day by newly promoted Highlands Park and Bloemfontein Celtic, a club that looks highly likely, because of financial problems, to have disappeared off the face of the earth by next season.

If there is any mitigating factor for Chiefs it is that it was probably correct to part ways with Steve Komphela towards the end of last season, having failed to win a single trophy in three consecutive campaigns.

The hiring of Giovanni Solinas, however, was a total misstep, a man with no real pedigree at the top level in the Premier Soccer League, and he was out of the door quicker than anyone can say Andriamirado Andrianarimanana.

If that appointment raised eyebrows, the next almost lifted them off people’s faces, as Ernst Middendorp was given another chance at Naturena.

Middendorp has had a long career in the PSL, and has had moments of success, but hardly seemed a candidate to lead Chiefs any closer to Sundowns.

As it is, he has got them to a cup final, but their collapse in the league has to cast doubt on his ability to take charge of the team next season.

After all, the last time Chiefs finished outside of the top eight, Middendorp was their coach, in the 2006-7 season, with Middendorp sacked in March 2007, before that season had ended.

Another factor in Chiefs’ run to the Nedbank Cup final is that, with all due respect to that competition, both Sundowns and Orlando Pirates had far greater fish to fry than the Nedbank Cup, in the form of running each other close for the Premiership, while also competing in the Caf Champions League.

The simple fact is that the country’s biggest domestic cup competition is likely to become less of a priority for sides in the Champions League now that the competition has been moved in line with the South African domestic season.

Chiefs can win the Nedbank Cup and crow about a trophy (Pirates have not won a piece of silverware in five seasons), but the gap to the Buccaneers and Sundowns is only getting wider.

 

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