The butterfly caught in a storm of disappointment
Hendrick Pule Ekstein symbolised the malaise Chiefs were in under Stephen Komphela
If you’ve played sport at school level, you’ll know there were some players who, for some inexplicable reason, always played in the A teams.
“Suck-ups”, “suctions” or “teacher’s pets” – whatever you called them, they were always in the team, regardless of how well the players below them played.
Forget about seeing them dropped, and this was heartbreaking at the best of times. You had to live with this and the status of being the star “B-team” player.
Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Hendrick Pule Ekstein reminds me of such players and, in some way, symbolised the malaise Chiefs found themselves in under former coach Stephen Komphela.
The now ex-coach was and still is a good person and this goodwill generally resonated when Chiefs won.Pity the Moses Mabhida hooligans decided take matters into their own despicable hands.
As we saw some time ago when the cavernous FNB Stadium bore witness to the evisceration Chiefs were subjected to at the hands of Chippa United, nice guys finish last with their special set of rules.
It’ll forever be painful to see Chiefs playing in an empty fish bowl of a stadium, but when a player like Ekstein gets the nod ahead of a versatile and superior footballer such as Siphelele Ntshangase, that tells you everything you need to know about Chiefs’ current ambition as a club.
I have no beef with Ekstein, even though I make jokes about him on social media. He’s the namesake of one of Chiefs' and South African football’s greatest products, “Ace” Ntsoelengoe. That’s a heavy cross to bear and one that’s breaking his back.If we’re honest, it’s a disservice to the name Pule even though everyone has to play within their limitations.
Ekstein gets the crowds buzzing with his sporadic bursts of pace and when he strings a number of decent passes together. However, the feeling of him fluttering around like a butterfly caught in a tropical storm never vanishes, especially in big games when quality midfielders unobtrusively take charge.
Vision of disappointment
The manner in which Ekstein submarined in big moments essentially mirrors the lack of fight Chiefs have displayed in big games.
These are the very same Chiefs who, despite the fluctuating quality of their teams through the years, always save their best for the biggest moment.
Ekstein didn’t pick himself, despite the inferior quality of football he produced week in, week out. Every time Ekstein started, he was the perfect player for Komphela’s football vision that’s seen Chiefs desperately hang onto Mamelodi Sundowns’ and Orlando Pirates’ coattails.
When Chiefs are flat, he disappears into the quagmire of disappointment and, when they suddenly crawl out of their somnambulism, he’s just a conduit that neither adds nor detracts from the team.Ekstein is not the first and definitely not the last average player to feature for a big club. For long this used to be the reserve of Orlando Pirates during their dry spell between 2006 and 2009, while Sundowns had their own long list of highly paid has-beens before Pitso Mosimane cracked the whip.
Chiefs, though, have firmly owned this space in the past three seasons and they’ve only served to embellish Komphela’s directionless tenure.
But no player stands out like Ekstein and the faith shown in the wearer of the number 27 jersey despite his ever-increasing ineffectiveness.
A competitive Kaizer Chiefs is good for South African football, but a trophy-winning Kaizer Chiefs momentarily lifts the weight off this troubled nation even though Chiefs fans are known to make life unbearable.
They’ll have to wait another season before they revert to their irritating selves.
Players will come and go but, like that disgusting Zebra strip Chiefs wore some years ago, Ekstein will be remembered as the face of the Komphela-era stagnation.