While it is an open secret that the 2-0 win for Orlando Pirates against arch-rivals, Kaizer Chiefs, in the Carling Black Label Cup Soweto Derby wasn’t a true reflection of the game, it is vitally important to put things into perspective.
Chiefs started better but Pirates should have scored more! Both teams looked threatening, in patches, with Chiefs looking to get out of the blocks first until they lost their momentum via an impressive high press from Pirates that resulted in a goal as early as the 19th minute, after a stray pass that resulted in the ball landing into the back of the net. From then on, it was pretty much game on!
There are already grumblings from a section of the Naturena-based club’s supporters, expressing their dissatisfaction at the way their team handled the game. Some have gone as far as claiming that, with German-born coach Ernst Middendorp at the helm, the team has taken a few backward steps. They believe there’s no improvement or bright future with the coach making his second stint at the club. I beg to differ! The fact that Middendorp was in charge of the team when Amakhosi last finished outside the Top Eight bracket, coupled with last season’s disappointing ninth finish, although it wasn’t entirely his doing, seem to haunt him. First of all, Chiefs supporters have to shoulder last weekend’s loss purely by consistently making questionable selections in their starting line-up since the inception of this cup tie in 2011. They continued from where they left off on Saturday by fielding four right-footed defenders when Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya, a natural left back, was idling on the bench. This wasn’t the first time the hard-to-please Amakhosi supporters ‘conceded an own goal’ in their team selection in this derby.
Secondly, if you looked at the two teams’ starting line-ups, it goes without saying that Pirates went into the game as hot favourites. The fact that their supporters selected none of their new signings ahead of their tried and tested campaigners proves the stability they have in their team. Pirates signed more players than Chiefs and one would think Bucs supporters would be more excited to see what their new acquisitions have to offer, but that wasn’t the case. This further proves the options and quality at Bucs’ technical team’s disposal, while the levels of desperation pushed their opposition to start with two of their new signings in search of their saviour this season. If you’re going to judge Middendorp on this derby, then surely you must have known that he’s got bigger problems than his opposite number, Milutin Sredojevic, who goes into the new season with the spine of the team he had last season, while Middendorp was forced to venture into the market.
Anyone expecting Chiefs to start firing on all cylinders this season is in serious need of an injection of realism. Yes, the supporters have high expectations, especially after four seasons without any silverware to show for it, which is the first in the team’s glittering history. That this is Amakhosi’s 50th anniversary season adds to the expectations, but if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail, they say. To dump all expectations on the coach that found a team that was in tatters almost halfway through last season would be unfair on the 60-year-old coach but, as he certainly knows, coaches are hired to be fired.
In reality, this is the season to judge Middendorp, having just finished a pre-season with the team. Whether he’s happy with his squad or not is a separate story altogether. However, news of Khama Billiat reportedly wanting to go back to Mamelodi Sundowns after just one season at Amakhosi is enough reason for the team’s supporters to get worried. Arguably their best player last season, Billiat has allegedly realised that the grass isn’t greener on the other side as his former teammates have continued to achieve great things, since his departure from Chloorkop, while he watched on television. He only has a few Man of the Match awards to his name at Naturena. If Sundowns were to wrestle Billiat away from Chiefs, it would go a long way in upsetting the proverbial applecart as he is expected to be one of the key players this season.
There’s also the Leonardo Castro situation where the club initially put the Colombian striker on transfer, removed him from the CBL Cup team, only to get him back on. As things stand, Castro looks set to stay and that should be good news for Amakhosi. Having said that, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the ‘rubbished’ interest in Billiat isn’t just a rumour. Look no further than coach Middendorp’s veiled answers whenever asked about Billiat’s future at the club. Just like he made it clear that Pule Ekstein was one of the best players in his team and someone he would definitely want to keep, before his contract was mutually terminated, the German mentor has been doing the same thing with the former Sundowns attacker. It looks like Middendorp wants everyone to know where he stands so that no one will point a finger at him, should things not go well for the team.
Watch this space!