Judging by the current debate in media circles, Kaizer Chiefs’ problems are all down to one thing really: quality players. Buy quality players and all your problems will disappear like ice on the Kalahari sand. No! argue others, give the coaching job to a local who understands the culture of local players, etc. A significant few others agree that removing Bobby Motaung from the Manager’s seat would be the cure Chiefs so badly needs. And so on.
I read somewhere last week that the likes of Mashamaite, Ritchie, Ngcobo, and a few other first teamers (you can take you pick really) are not quality players, and are not fit to be Kaizer Chiefs players. As this sort of debate is becoming common given Chiefs’ recent form, I decided to analyse the Chiefs squad a bit more to understand the need for ‘quality’, looking at the defence as the basis of my discussion.
The Chiefs goalkeeping position is easily the strongest in the team, if not the entire PSL, and is hardly worth analysing further. The only question there would be that of succession, should Khune get his desired overseas move and/or Bartman retire, but that is one for the future.
A combination of age and injuries, plus the lack of pace and knack for fouls, have made Dominic Isaacs a less than reliable player in recent seasons. While he cannot be termed poor, his best years are quite clearly behind him. The same applies to Sweswe: tenacious but liable to mistakes, he was probably more attractive for his (lack of) cost than anything else. Due to their experience perhaps, they can give the odd man-of-the-match performance, only to totally collapse in the next match and cost the team. A recent addition to central defence is Tefu Mashamaite, who incidentally was in the Bafana Bafana frame before joining Chiefs. There was much ululating when he was signed, but has recently been labelled poor quality when he has had a rare start. It was not clear why Chiefs bought this player in the first place (some claim it was to replace Nahayo), but what is clear is that his progress has stalled since he moved from Wits. Another player who has regressed is Keegan Ritchie (Masenamela replacement?); at Swallows he was a regular, and would certainly be far with his development under Gordon Igesund.
Jimmy Tau has valuable experience (former captain etc.) and, while not exactly setting the scene alight this season (who is?), will continue to give good service provided the rest of the defence is settled enough. On the left , Zhaimu Jambo though reliable enough defensively, leaves one pining for the good old days of Punch, or Bhasera before him, players who knew what to do with the ball. His compatriot Lincoln Svaziya is full of zest, but is perhaps one for the future as well (more on this later). Brent Lawler and Tlou Molekwane (injury) have not featured much lately, but when he did play, Molekwane gave the impression that he would adequately fit in at right-back in the future.
Short-termism and Chequebook Management
The examples of Ritchie and Mashamaite in particular, illustrate a general trend among PSL clubs which contributes to overall falling standards of the game: short-termism. No one is safe. Deliver or die. There is no project, just the here and now. There is pressure on the coach, and the coach transmits it to the players.
Under ‘normal’ circumstances, the coach will have a long term plan that is in line with the vision and culture of the Club, regardless of the length of his contract. This will be agreed when the coach takes over the job, and will incorporate aspects of player development, recruitment and scouting strategy, annual targets (League and Cups), style of play, succession planning, and so on. Looking at the prevailing scenario in the PSL, including at Chiefs, one can conclude that there is no such framework. The transfer window in particular is the surest sign of the random strategies at play. Firstly, Pirates and Sundowns rule the roost, snapping every player they can entice with their boundless riches, regardless of their squad needs, with or without the input of the coach. More than any other club, Supersport United and Ajax, and now Wits, have suffered from this practice. Their best players from recent years can be found on the bench in Orlando or Mamelodi.
In trying to keep a dignified approach, Chiefs have fallen behind in this rat race, and while they landed an undoubted star in Musona from across the boarder, all the other foreign signings have been average at best. For Chiefs to sign Katsande (at the last minute) after he had been rejected by Foppe de Haan at Ajax said it all really: not only was he average, he could not be expected to improve significantly. Locally though, Chiefs will continue to miss out, simply because from a business perspective, signing established players means going up against Pirates and Sundowns in bidding wars that run into millions of rand.
Is there a solution?
A bit of long-term thinking never hurt anyone. And it doesn’t have to cost much either. Look where spending lots of money has got Sundowns, for example. If Chiefs had a 5 or 10-year plan when Dumitru left, they would be ahead by miles, if not world-class. Granted, Chairman Motaung has attempted to develop a long term approach at Chiefs but has been let down badly by those he has entrusted with the operations. Back when Ace, Doctor and Arthur were given coaching roles within the Club, the plan was for them to take over the leadership roles in future, but here we are in the future and the jury is still out. In African football, where short-termism is the trend, those who plan long-term will always reap the reward: see Egypt at national and club level, and more recently Zambia. The moneybags philosophy may serve Sundowns and Pirates well in the short term, but will not be sustainable. Modern football is going in the opposite direction: development is key.
The experiment with Ace, Doctor and Arthur must not be abandoned: it is the future of Chiefs, and offers better long-term prospects than another VV or Middendorp or Ertugral or Dolezar, or a Baxter for that matter! It must be handled better though: instead of throwing the rookie coaches to the wolves as Chiefs have done, they would be better off working with, or under a father figure such as Jeff Butler or Ted Dumitru, someone who will not care about the limelight. Who will want to see them succeed, and generous with his knowledge. Someone who will want to see young players at Chiefs reach their potential, and not just trying to buy all the established stars in the PSL. And who will not try to change the players, but make them better.
In a future article I will look at the rest of the Chiefs squad, the style of play, and the tactics. I will not be analysing any of the remaining matches individually because quite frankly, there is very little of tactical interest from the team at the moment, understandably so. If I notice something worth discussing though, I will share it here.
I will sign off with these words, from Keegan Ritchie in an interview with SoccerLaduma this week:
We don’t really do a lot of one-on-one at training, so it’s kind of hard to work on specifics. But what I can do is ask a right winger to take me on and stuff, try to get past me down the line. This’ll help my one-on-one defending. When we do defensive stuff at training, it’s with everyone. It’s not with a certain player – it’s with the whole group – how the back four pushes out as a unit, how we defend set-pieces…drills like that.
The question was “What can you do to improve defensively?”. See you in Part 2.
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