I feel we’re often too quick, sometimes rightfully so, to lament all the wrongs happening in our football, that the splendid occurrences that come to shape this game we all love overtake us. It has been such a topsy-turvy season for most teams and coaches, with twists and turns aplenty, but in the midst of it all, there have been beautiful stories that just can never be told enough. Kaizer Chiefs’ win over Mamelodi Sundowns last weekend had me on edge, and I therefore felt the urge to highlight some of these right here on this hallowed platform.
“Struggle” has been the story of Kaizer Chiefs and Gavin Hunt this season. Having started the season on a bad footing by losing to Sundowns in the opening game of the DStv Premiership campaign, before being eliminated from the MTN8 by bitter rivals Orlando Pirates with a 5-0 aggregate score, the forecast for Amakhosi this season was a rather gloomy one. After all, there is the FIFA two-window transfer ban that has been hovering over Naturena for what would have now felt like eternity, and is set to come to an end come July. But for me, the moral of the story of the Soweto giants’ season has been how they have persevered and hung in there in the face of these challenges, which meant Gavin Hunt could not sign the players to fit his preferred style of play, even as they seem to be flirting with a finish outside the Top Eight. You must remember that the ordinary Kaizer Chiefs fan from Nyanga East or Brits still wants nothing less than a win from his or her team every matchday, meaning the pressure is always high on the coach and the players. That’s just the price you pay for being part of such a huge institution renowned for winning trophies in the past. That the Naturena-based outfit were able to beat Pirates in the most recent Soweto Derby, much against almost everyone’s expectations, speaks to the determination, fortitude and professionalism that Hunt is trying to instill in his charges. The win over a Downs side so rich in quality and tactical acumen, after going down 1-0 nogal, was huge in so many ways. Even Manqoba Mngqithi, Sundowns’ co-coach, was at pains to explain the loss in his post-match interview, noting, “I honestly don’t think this is the team that should have taken away our unbeaten record.”
On the evidence of the squad at Hunt’s disposal, no one could have seen the two abovementioned results coming, but what the coach and his charges have quickly learnt is to do what they need to do in order to win games. Still, it has been a far-from-impressive season by Chiefs’ standards, where they lost matches that one would expect they would ordinarily win, with Hunt’s team selections often called into question. Not to mention that some of the senior players have not covered themselves in glory, often failing to rise to the occasion when it matters most. If one didn’t know better, one would draw the conclusion that these seniors have delegated their duties to their more junior teammates, like Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, Njabulo Blom and Happy Mashiane, whose games have shown a marked improvement this season. From my side, this is in no way celebrating the mediocrity that has crept in at the club, but just acknowledging the progress that has been made, albeit in patches, under very difficult circumstances. Let’s not forget the small matter of qualifying for the quarterfinal stage of the CAF Champions League, a historic feat indeed. And from there, anything can happen, and the Glamour Boys’ ability to keep at it and defy the odds might well stand them in good stead as they prepare to face either of Mamelodi Sundowns, Simba SC and Esperance.
Then, just as I was soaking in the manner in which Chiefs bagged all three points at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, another beautiful story crossed my mind. AmaZulu FC. And Benni McCarthy. How crazy we all must have thought new kid on the football block Sandile Zungu, the club’s president, was when he screamed a top four finish ambition from the rooftops, and how we are now being served humble pie, courtesy of Usuthu’s amazing run of results, which has seen them leap to second place on the log standings. I hear some saying the league title race is going down to the wire, with only three points separating the Durban-based side and Sundowns, who have two games in hand. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, they say, and the Tshwane giants will sure be treading carefully in their eight remaining games, with McCarthy’s men breathing heavily down their necks. How ironic would it be if Downs were to let it slip right at the death, having been top of the log for pretty much the whole campaign, a scenario they benefited from when they snatched it from Chiefs in the last 30 minutes of the 2019/20 season. Oh so beautiful, this game of football.
Back to AmaZulu.
Such has been the club’s progress under the former Bafana Bafana striker, that if I were McCarthy, I’d forget about the national team job. Because, although enticing, and possibly an opportunity to enhance one’s name on the international stage as a coach, that job is no pap ‘n vleis. Ask Gordon Igesund, Pitso Mosimane, Shakes Mashaba and Molefi Ntseki, among others. In actual fact, if things go south, as they so often do for our beloved Bafana, it might hurt your reputation as a coach and suddenly you find yourself in a situation where no team wants to touch you. Talk of a poisoned chalice.
Then there’s Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila FC, the team some love to hate. In the initial stages of the Limpopo side’s first season in the topflight, they became known more for off-field issues rather than for their performances on the pitch. The rookies, who bought their way into the elite division, hopped from one controversy to another in a speed that would have turned Usain Bolt green with envy, leaving South African football fans miffed. Some complained it’s too soon for another Chippa United or Black Leopards, clubs that have been known to court controversy during their time in the Premiership. Such was the circus that some players were signed, only to leave without featuring for the club in an official match. We were even made to believe that one player, Joseph Molangoane, was dismissed for, wait for it, refusing to wash his own kit! All of the above said, it’s been amazing to see how TTM have turned things around since Dr Abram Sello took ownership of the club, with players said to now be in a happier mood. Still, how they managed to reach the Nedbank Cup final, to be contested against Chippa United on May 8, is another story of how a team just manages to rise above the odds. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – indeed.
There’s been many more of such stories of the underdog finding a way to prevail and these need to be told, just as positive criticism is needed when necessary. Well, the end of the season is only a month away, but that’s a long time in football and I suspect we may be treated to more of such tales where the unexpected happens. Don’t you just love it!
Catch y’all on the rebound,