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The Red Devils are in many a dreadful Amakhosi detail

The Red Devils are in many a dreadful Amakhosi detail
Midfielder Tebogo Potsane reacts during Kaizer Chiefs' 1-0 loss against AmaZulu on 21 October 2023. Amakhosi have failed to bring home a trophy since 2015. (Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix)

There may be thousands of kilometres separating them, but there are quite a few similarities between Kaizer Chiefs and Manchester United.

As he became the main representation of Kaizer Chiefs’ failures with each passing week, it was evident that head coach Molefi Ntseki’s days were numbered. With each bad game, the former Bafana Bafana mentor was the object of the Amakhosi faithful’s ire.

In the last game before he and Chiefs formally went their separate ways on 23 October, Ntseki was once again escorted off the field by police officers, in the midst of raging Chiefs supporters. It was the third time it had happened this season.

The fans – livid that Chiefs were knocked out of the Carling Knockout Cup in the first round after losing 1-0 to AmaZulu – threw all sorts of projectiles at the coach. He could not even do his on-field post-match television interviews as a result.

In Ntseki, the frustrated fans of the faltering South African soccer heavyweights had found another scapegoat for their struggles. This is not surprising because he had no experience of working at this level of club soccer, with the bulk of his coaching experience coming from South Africa’s junior national teams, before a short-lived stint as Bafana Bafana coach.

Kaizer Chiefs and Manchester United.

Molefi Ntseki has been booted out as head coach of Kaizer Chiefs.(Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix)

An extended barren run

Amakhosi are without a major trophy since 2015 – far too long for a commercial juggernaut in the mould of the Soweto side.

During that time, six different coaches have come and gone, without success. Even the rehiring of the last tactician to bring happiness to Amakhosi eight years ago, Stuart Baxter, did not yield the silverware that would snap the barren run. He lasted less than a year in the role and was shown the door in 2022.

Placing Arthur Zwane – who was part of an exciting and successful Chiefs side as a speedy winger in the 2000s – after Baxter was also not enough to reignite the Glamour Boys’ winning spirit.

As the supporters of the club indicated during a peaceful protest staged in May 2021, their gripe was not with then coach Gavin Hunt, but rather with the hierarchy of the club.

“We have become the cash cows. The only type of communication we receive from the club is when our loyalty is exploited to sell merchandise and various products for the different companies that sponsor the club,” read the Amakhosi fans’ memorandum.

There to receive the list of grievances was Jessica Motaung, the club’s marketing director, and her brother Kaizer Motaung Jr, its sporting director.

“I know we’ve made mistakes on our side… Yes, change is needed. But let’s be honest, it’s a process. We didn’t get where we are yesterday. It’s a process,” said Jessica Motaung at the time.

Trust the process?

Two years later, the process is still foggy. The trophies are still nowhere to be found. But at least the club recently celebrated the launching of a range of potato chips for their supporters to feast on while mourning the lack of silverware.

This is because, in spite of their lack of success, Chiefs remain a massive brand off the field. It is one of the best-supported clubs in Africa, boasting sponsors such as Vodacom, Toyota and Medshield. These partners have bridged the financial gap caused by the club’s eight-year trophy drought.

They have also lost some commercial partners along the way, including Hollard in 2021. Most recently, Nike abandoned ship after a partnership of over two decades. Italian clothing manufacturer Kappa has since occupied that space.

If they find themselves without a trophy for a few more years, Chiefs’ existing partnerships may be in jeopardy.

Two sides of a coin

Kaizer Chiefs and Manchester United

Rasmus Hojlund of Manchester United in action during the Premier League against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, Manchester, on 30 September 2023. Despite taking home the Carabao Cup in early 2023, the side have not been able to appease fans still angry after a six-year trophy drought. (Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Amakhosi’s struggles are not much different from those of Manchester United. Both are a commercial juggernaut and have a cult following that is demanding.

In their own ways, the clubs seem to be stuck in their history of being powerhouses on and off the field, but the reality is that they are now also-rans on the pitch.

Fans of the Red Devils still hold on to the sweet memories of yesteryear under the incomparable Alex Ferguson, whereas Amakhosi fans are still intoxicated by the magic of one of the greatest coaches ever to grace the Premier Soccer League, Ted Dumitru.

Both United’s hierarchy and their current crop of players have been placed under the microscope. In their past, the Red Devils could call on players such as Bobby Charlton, George Best, David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Nemanja Vidić, Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra and Peter Schmeichel.

During the Chiefs supporters’ protest in 2021, they accused the club of not signing players who are worthy of the Amakhosi badge. In past decades, they had players such as Teenage Dladla, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Thabo Mooki, Lucas Radebe, Doctor Khumalo and Tinashe Nengomashe.

Just like the Motaungs, the Glazer family, who own the Red Devils, have been accused of not caring about the club and only holding on to it because it remains a financially viable commercial powerhouse.

United endured their own trophy drought. It lasted six years before the club’s current manager, Erik ten Hag, snapped it with his troops in early 2023 as they won the Carabao Cup. This has not appeased the fans, who regularly stage sit-ins directed at the owners.

Just when Amakhosi will finally break their own trophy drought is unclear. Mamelodi Sundowns are heavy favourites to win a seventh DStv Premiership title in a row. That only leaves the Nedbank Cup for Chiefs later in the season.

The coach in charge by that time remains unclear. Cavin Johnson, who has coached local teams such as Platinum Stars, SuperSport United and AmaZulu, will be in the hot seat on an interim basis. Johnson, who was Pitso Mosimane’s assistant while he was at Al Ahly in Egypt, will likely audition for the permanent role through positive displays on the field. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

P1. Front page. 28 October 2023

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