From depth to defence, it’s the beginning of the end for Chiefs
Here are the reasons they won't return to their former glory
Kaizer Chiefs’ plunge into ignominy, marked by three years without winning a major trophy for the first time in the club’s 48-year history, looks set to get worse.
It is fairly easy to predict the plot and the ending of this horror movie, especially when you consider the way the once-proud club has started the season under 50-year-old Italian coach Giovanni Solinas.
Three draws and one defeat in Chiefs’ opening four league matches marks the worst start to a new Absa Premiership season in nine years for the ailing Soweto giants. It is also their second-worst league start since the formation of the Premier Soccer League in the 1996/97 campaign.
We list 10 reasons Chiefs will struggle to return to their former glory under Solinas this season.
Lack of depth in many areas
Typical Chiefs teams of yesteryear, particularly in the 70s, 80s and 90s, had depth and they were blessed with brilliant players.
In fact, it was the great number of talented players that the club used to attract that earned them the moniker, Amakhosi, as they collected trophy after trophy with delightful ease.
Chiefs had supremely gifted teams who were no match for their opponents.Pity the same cannot be said these days as injury to one or two of those players viewed as central to the coach’s plans raises questions about the strength and character of those waiting in the wings.
The current squad has regulars including captain and long-serving goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, central defender Daniel Cardoso, central midfielder Willard Katsande, attacking midfielder Khama Billiat and striker Leonardo Castro.
But what happens if two or three of these players suffer an injury?
The reality is that there just isn’t enough quality waiting in the sidelines and ready to step in should some of the regulars be ruled out through injuries or suspension.
That should tell us why it has taken Chiefs so long to reproduce the kind of performances that once made them the most vibrant, stylish and feared outfit this country has seen.
The team was not reinforced enough
When one thinks about the players Chiefs brought in during the transfer window that closes at the end of this month, it is shocking that only one, Khama Billiat, comes to mind.
And that’s where Amakhosi’s problems start.In their heyday Chiefs used to buy or get the best available stock every time they went to the market. Today they can’t even afford an exciting young Zimbabwean-born left winger playing for Baroka FC, Talent Chawapiwa, who has never hidden his desire to don the famous black and gold strip of Chiefs (that’s still winning global awards for its beauty and design).
Billiat is undoubtedly immensely talented, as Solinas has discovered, but to expect him to change Chiefs’ fortune on his alone is absurd.
The other big danger about Billiat is his proneness to injuries. What will happen when he’s out injured for three months?
No stability in central defence
This area used to be one of the fulcrums and best-functioning departments at Chiefs, with the likes of Ryder Mofokeng, Neil Tovey, Lucas Radebe, Patrick Mabedi and Howard Freese showing over the years how a good Amakhosi defender operates in the rearguard.Other than Cardoso, these days you never know who’s in the starting line-up partnering him – Sibusiso Ngezana, Eric Mathoho or Teenage Hadebe.
That kind of instability in a critical position like the central defence doesn’t inspire any confidence, especially in the goalkeepers.
Small wonder then that Chiefs have conceded five goals in four league matches, something which was unheard of in the days of Mofokeng, Tovey, Freese, Radebe and Mabedi.
Willard Katsande is still great, but overplayed
At 32, Katsande is still a critical player in the Chiefs engine room. But can we really still expect him to play each and every minute of every match at his age?
The burden on Katsande’s shoulders is part of the point we mentioned about Chiefs’ lack of depth.
If Wiseman Meyiwa and George Maluleka were ready enough to take over from Katsande, the Zimbabwean would not be playing 90 minutes these days.
But such is the strain and limited resources that every Chiefs coach faces; they end up with no option but to play Katsande until they have extracted every ounce of energy from him.
Is Ntshangase being played to his strength?There are questions over whether Siphelele Ntshangase is being deployed where he’s most effective.
Solinas wants to play Ntshangase as a deep-lying attacking midfielder next to Katsande in a 4-4-2 formation.
The problem with this is that the former Baroka player is not good at all at defending – an area in which Solinas wants him to improve as well.
What could be suggested as a best position for Ntshangase is when he plays behind Castro in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
He’s a player with effective final passes, as he showed with that delightful pass to Castro against Free State Stars in the MTN8 last week.
But to ask him to run all over the midfield and also carry out defensive duties is limiting his effectiveness.
Lack of cover in the goalkeeping department
Like Katsande, Khune is no spring chicken, but he is still the indisputable No 1 goalkeeper at Chiefs by far.
The problem is that when he’s injured at 32, his healing will take longer than expected.Pity that Chiefs could not convince a younger and perhaps more matured Brilliant Khuzwayo to extend his contract when it expired in June.
Yes, Chiefs have acquired the services of Namibian Virgil Vries (30) as Khune’s No 2. And yes, he’s not a bad keeper.
But keeping Khuzwayo would have created more stability in the team as he had experience of standing in Chiefs’ goals and understood the culture of the club.
What happens when both Khune and Vries are injured or suspended?
The left flank is weaker
There are two reasons that make this area vulnerable.
Siphiwe Tshabalala has been a good servant for Chiefs for many years, but to expect him to be the same player that he was five years ago is ridiculous.
His experience can be used to slow things down when the victory has been secured, but the opposite is still happening.
He simply doesn’t have the same speed he had when he scored that remarkable opening goal for Bafana Bafana in the 2010 Fifa World Cup.Solinas is yet to find a player to properly take the baton from Tshabalala, and had Chiefs managed to sign Chawapiwa, that problem would have sorted itself out.
The left back position is not stable either, with Siphosakhe Ntiyantiya still lacking in experience.
In Chiefs’ 3-1 home loss against Bidvest Wits the young left back was exposed.
But you’ve got to ask the question why Philani Zulu was suddenly out of favour when he played so many matches during Steve Komphela’s reign.
Gustavo Paez simply out of touch
There’s no player who’s been given more time to prove himself at Chiefs than Paez.
What’s been clear though over the past two seasons is that the Venezuelan is simply not good enough.
His first touch has been horrible, his passes too wayward at times, and his shots at goal always lack the power to trouble any self-respecting goalkeeper.The sooner Chiefs show him the door and get an able partner for Castro, the better.
The unluckiest player at Chiefs has been Dumisani Zuma, who has had to play second fiddle to Paez when he’s actually a better player even in terms of the scoring ratio.
With Bernard Parker also past his best, Chiefs will soon be under pressure to get a young and sharp striker to provide cover for Castro and Zuma.
Mahlasela has to make an immediate impact
You cannot really blame Kabelo Mahlasela for taking long to establish himself at Chiefs.
He was signed last December from Bloemfontein Celtic and got injured in one of his first training sessions at Naturena.
But with Joseph Molangoane now with a long-term injury of his own, Mahlasela is expected to show his true colours on the right side of midfield.
That he might take longer to adjust to Chiefs’ way of playing does not help Solinas.Also, with Molangoane out for the entire season, this again exposes Chiefs’ lack of depth.
Chiefs’ squad is not like that of Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates where they are five players for two positions in certain areas.
This calls for Kaizer Motaung to reinforce his team, especially in a season as hectic as the current one.
Solinas has already led the way, complaining in his third league game about fixture congestion taking its toll on his limited squad.
Solinas may take longer to understand his team
It doesn’t help Chiefs that they have started this season with a new foreign coach who is looking to establish himself at the club in terms of winning silverware.The Italian may also take longer to find suitable positions for his players, just as he’s struggling to slot Ntshangase into the right area.
Unfortunately, Solinas may run out of time and excuses if his team don’t click quicker to have any chance of winning league games and the MTN8.
While this may be understandable to the neutrals, for Chiefs supporters it might be something else.
If Solinas struggles and decides to leave in the middle of the season, things will only get worse for Chiefs, with even a top-eight finish difficult to attain.