Monday, 5 May 2014

CHAMPIONS DETHRONED: Did a simple lack of Knowledge bring down Kaizer Chiefs?

Double trouble: Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter

looked unbeatable two months ago
Kaizer Chiefs fans, you are not alone. Just like the reigning champions in Spain and England, South Africa’s mighty AmaKhosi are left asking: “Where did it all go wrong?”

Uniquely, while FC Barcelona and Manchester United can blame the loss of their crowns on managerial changes, Kaizer Chiefs retained Stuart Baxter – the first foreign coach ever to win South Africa’s domestic championship in his first season – but still failed to reach the double-winning heights of last season.

Like Barca without Pep (and the late Tito) or United without Fergie, Kaizer Chiefs have finished out of the running (barring miracles), ending a potless season scratching their heads while their rivals compete for Champions League and domestic trophies.

Ironically, for the latter part of Saturday’s morale-busting penalty shoot-out defeat in the Nedbank Cup semi-final at Wits University, we actually saw a little of the old Chiefs panache.

Gavin Hunt’s men were outplayed for most of the extra-time period, before Moeneeb Josephs superb opening save in the shoot-out sent them surging through on penalties.

And just to really rub salt in the wounds, Soweto rivals Orlando Pirates then saw off Steve Komphela’s unfashionable Maritzburg United 2-1 to reach their FOURTH final of the season on May 17 at the mighty Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

DERAILED: The Chiefs express is in trouble

Suddenly, after a season which has seen the vast AmaKhosi clan laughing at the Buccaneers as they switched coaches and struggled to win their games in hand, it’s Pirates who look like the more successful club this season. Four finals is a record not to be sniffed out. The MTN8, Telkom KO and African Champions League bring rich rewards despite last-hurdle defeats … and even if they lose all four and go down to Wits in the Nedbank final, rather four cup finals than NONE.

All of which leaves Stuart Baxter – and the Motaung family – pulling their collective hair out. Two months ago, Chiefs were nailed on for the PSL title, unbeaten from November 5 and NEVER beaten at home under their Wolverhampton-born boss.

And now we come to the crucial question: Where did it all go wrong? Was it that first ever home defeat against Allan Freese’s Platinum Stars, who have barely won a game since?

Or how about the trip to DR Congo when, without television coverage or a single South African football reporter to witness it, they went down 3-0 to AS Vita as the Champions League train was firmly derailed?

Or perhaps it was Bernard Parker’s ankle. He’s played with strapping since early in the year – but the PSL’s top goal-scorer (with a measly 10) has failed to add to his tally since February despite starting throughout the run-in.

But no, in essence, it was none of these things. The real damage was done by the injury to another ankle. When Knowledge Musona began to struggle, so did Chiefs. Musona, still haggling with Bundesliga club Hoffenheim over his loan deal at Naturena, scored the Champions League hat-trick in Mozambique, he produced the goals which kept the four-month unbeaten streak going, and in truth (with 15 goals in all competitions) he was always the Chiefs spearhead.

And just as we joked about “Knowledge is power” and “a little bit of Knowledge is a dangerous thing” so we found that, without Knowledge Chiefs couldn’t overcome the Clever Boys when it mattered.

Baxter tried manfully to manage the grinding disappointment of semi-final failure. He said: “Penalties it is what it is; it is a very, very fine line. I must just say congratulations to Gavin Hunt and his boys and I wish them all the best in the final.”

But he was unable to summon the tears which accompanied Pitso Mosimane’s post-match display when champions-elect crashed out of the Nedbank Cup.

He tried to explain the pressure, the drain of the African Champions League: “We have done what we can in very trying circumstances and no-one has complained. We’ve gone on with it. I don’t know if anyone reflects on it, but those last 15 minutes today were more than I could have asked for.

“And going to extra-time is not what you want. If anybody says these players have let anybody down, they don't know anything about football.”

It’s strong stuff that, from a man who questioned his role at a club where the fans were booing Kingston Nkhatha even when Chiefs were top of the League.

Of course, things could yet turn around for Kaizer Chiefs (and Barcelona) with SuperSport United coach Cavin Johnson insisting his side will give their all against Masandawana tomorrow night. But it's highly unlikely.

Predictably, in the darker realms of the social networks, there are those calling for “Baxter out” just as Manchester United and Barcelona supporters reacted to their disappointments this season.

But that would be a mistake. Baxter can recover from this slump, this shocking failure (barring a miracle) to defend the trophies he won last year. But to do that, he’ll need a little bit more Knowledge.

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