Solinas: Has he got enough plaster for the Chiefs cracks?
Debatable that the overhaul of the squad promised soon after Komphela’s departure has been achieved
Giovanni Solinas was clearly as shaken as anyone at Kaizer Chiefs after Joseph Molangoane broke a leg in Amakhosi’s MTN8 win against Free State Stars at FNB Stadium on Saturday night.
The 50-year-old Italian should have been showing some relief and celebrating a solid 3-0 win – his first victory at his new team. Instead in the post-match press conference Solinas looked drawn and devastated.
Partly it was because of the nature of the injury. Everyone in football hates these sorts of broken leg incidents, when one can see the snap on TV. They elicit a particular sense of shock and a sick feeling in the belly.
But for Solinas the disappointment is more than just visceral. After just a three-week preseason, following a first month that was overseen by assistant coach Patrick Mabedi, Solinas has been swimming against the tide since his arrival at Chiefs. The current was against him thanks to predecessor Steve Komphela going three seasons without a trophy.Solinas started with an encouraging 1-1 away draw against champions Mamelodi Sundowns. Then, in a 3-1 defeat against Bidvest Wits last Wednesday, there were notable grumbles in the stands from the Chiefs faithful who had “removed” Komphela with a violent pitch invasion in Durban in April.
The supporters’ scepticism stemmed from the appointment of a coach, when Chiefs needed a trophy after three years of rebuilding under Komphela, who had won just one piece of silverware in North Africa in 2010.
So the win against Stars, the convincing scoreline of it, and the manner in which two of the goals were scored, with beautiful buildups from deep (one had 14 passes), would have come as a relief to Solinas.
Relief countered by seeing a star performer of the win, Molangoane, ruled out for four to six months but in reality probably the season.
The defeat against Wits exposed all the cracks Solinas is going to have to try to plaster over to make Chiefs look respectable this season. The win against Stars was a one-game indicator that the coach might be capable of doing it.
The cracks are that Chiefs still have 2010 World Cup stars in their lineup who were showing signs of ageing when Stuart Baxter left at the end of his second double-winning season in 2014-15, saying Amakhosi’s squad needed a flamethrower taken to it.Komphela did that in part, in stages. But still remnants such as Siphiwe Tshabalala – in sparkling enough form in the first half of last season to earn a first Bafana Bafana call-up in three years, but notably tired by the end of it – and Bernard Parker remain.
Defensive midfielder Willard Katsande is now 32. Katsande, Tshabalala and Itumeleng Khune looked like they were carrying Chiefs at times during Komphela’s tenure. Only Khune, a goalkeeper, and a super-fit one at that, does not appear broken to some extent by the weight of the burden.
More cracks are that Chiefs have for three years bought, seemingly on the cheap, players of a quality not substantial enough to carry the great jersey. Many were sold within a year or less.
By the end of Komphela’s tenure – Chiefs ended third in 2017-18, even after the coach had left – the squad looked to have been suitably rebuilt to be competitive.Amakhosi have young prospects, and players in their mid-20s – such as Siyabonga Ngezana, Teenage Hadebe, Siphelele Ntshangase, Kabelo Mahlasela, Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya, Dumisani Zuma, Ryan Moon and now 2015-16 PSL Player of the Season Khama Billiat – capable of taking the team forward.
But it’s debatable whether the overhaul of the squad promised soon after Komphela’s departure has indeed been achieved.
The signing of Billiat promises much, but less so the little-known acquisitions Madagascan Andriamirado “Dax” Andrianarimanana and young left-back Letlhogonolo Mirwa from the third division.
Much of the instigation for Solinas’s furrowed brow at the loss for so long of Molangoane is that, while Chiefs have a squad of 30, their depth in quality outside of a starting XI and perhaps six or seven more players still appears to be lacking.
Baxter, in his three seasons at Amakhosi, showed that a coach does not necessarily need the best squad to win trophies and the league title, so long as he manages to maximise efficiency from the player resources he has.
Solinas has his work cut out replicating that.