Almost a decade of Chiefs being trophyless is not good for South African football

Almost a decade of Chiefs being trophyless is not good for South African football
Mduduzi Shabalala of Kaizer Chiefs during their Nedbank Cup last-32 match against Milford at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on 25 February 2024. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Kaizer Chiefs’ barren trophy run, which dates to 2015, not only hurts the club and its supporters, but South African football as a whole.

Kaizer Chiefs is one of the biggest sports brands in Africa. At the moment it is ailing. As it has been for almost a decade.

The Soweto side was eliminated 5-4 on penalties by Motsepe Foundation Championship outfit Milford in the Nedbank Cup round of 32 over the weekend.

The loss means that unless Chiefs can clinch the MTN8 trophy when the 2024/25 season begins later this year, their hardware drought will be exactly a decade long.

Despite being such a massive football authority on the African continent, and a brand that is globally recognised and respected, the past nine years have been filled with turmoil for the club and its large fanbase.

The embarrassing defeat to Milford exacerbated this long-standing misery for a club that has regressed from being a perennial influential factor in South African football to being also-rans.

In the 2023/24 MTN8 competition they were ousted in the semifinals by the authority of local football, Mamelodi Sundowns, in September. A month later, Amakhosi let slip another piece of drought-ending silverware when they were edged 1-0 by AmaZulu in the first round of the Carling Knockout Cup.

Kaizer Chiefs

Kaizer Chiefs coach Cavin Johnson with players during the Nedbank Cup match against Milford at FNB Stadium on 25 February 2024. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

The defeat cost Molefi Ntseki his job as head coach. The current Amakhosi mentor, Cavin Johnson, replaced him on an interim basis.

The 65-year-old joined Chiefs as head of the club’s youth development academy just a few weeks before he had to step in as an emergency pilot following Ntseki being parachuted out of a troubled Amakhosi airplane.

The more things change…  

Under Johnson – who is experienced, having coached teams such as Platinum Stars, AmaZulu and SuperSport United, and was assistant coach at Egyptian giants Al Ahly – it has been more ebbs and flows for the Soweto team.

With Ntseki at the helm, Chiefs played nine DStv Premiership matches, three of which ended in victory. There were a couple of draws, but they suffered four defeats.

Since Johnson took over, eight more games have been played. These have produced four wins, two draws and two defeats. Despite this marginal improvement, Amakhosi still trail runaway log leaders Sundowns by a massive 15 points. And that’s having played two more games than the defending league champions.

Which means the Nedbank Cup was their only remaining opportunity to claim any silverware. Though in the lead-up to the Milford fixture Johnson said he and his players felt “a strong sense of unity” and had all “made a pledge to each other to give everything to win this trophy for our fans”.

However, against the KwaZulu-Natal-based, second-tier team they appeared lethargic and it seemed that playing the game was a chore that they hated, as opposed to something they are passionate about. Not that they didn’t create chances to snuff out the Milford threat before the match went to penalties after a 0-0 draw in two hours of football.

Chiefs fans react with dismay during the Nedbank Cup match against Milford at FNB Stadium on 25 February 2024. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

That body language of lethargy from the players has been common this season. Even in matches where they’ve managed to attain the required results they seemed to have iron weights around their ankles.  

Even Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos lamented the fact that one of the biggest clubs in Africa, in terms of their support base and overall trophy cabinet, has been underwhelming for years.

He had to apologise in the aftermath of some of those comments about Amakhosi, after the club’s followers erupted like a volcano on him.

“I’m too straight, I tell things how they are. I don’t like to say it’s grey when it’s white or black. For me it’s black or white. What I feel is the truth. But they don’t accept it,” the Belgian mentor said in late 2023.

“For example, when I spoke about the players of Chiefs [not being good enough for Bafana Bafana], everyone was angry. Because I said that. But it is like that, Chiefs don’t play well at the moment. So, what did I say wrong?” Broos stated.  

Broos stood by his words as he left the Amakhosi cohort out of his Africa Cup of Nations squad. Only midfielder, Sibongiseni Mthethwa, came close to travelling to Ivory Coast after being named as an emergency standby.

Siphamandla Hleza of Milford saves the ball during the Nedbank Cup last-32 match against Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium on 25 February 2024. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

This latest Chiefs result vindicates the Bafana Bafana coach’s remarks. Though he will take no pleasure from it. He has consistently said that having Sundowns cruise to the league title every season is not good for South African football. And by extension, it is not good for Bafana Bafana and his options in the national team.

As for Johnson, who is essentially auditioning to take over Amakhosi full-time, he pointed out that he can’t fix nine years worth of Chiefs disappointment in just a few months.   

“As the coach now, do I have to take nine years on my shoulders? It’s a lot of years. As a technical group and players… we have to do proper inspection and look at how we can finish the season on the high. So we can show the public what we are doing to change [the current situation].”

Johnson is the sixth coach to take over at Chiefs since 2018. With the team’s displays in that period, it’s tough to imagine that even a coaching combination of Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho would make a difference to Amakhosi’s current fortunes. DM


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