|CHICKEN INN BARGAIN: Michelle "Mitchell" Katsvairo|
YOU can fool some of the people all of the time. You can fool all of the people some of the time.
But, like Abraham Lincoln, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time.
When Steve Komphela last week claimed he searched high and low for new players to reinforce once-mighty Kaizer Chiefs, he’s not fooling around.
His reputation, his career, his future depend on inspiring the AmaKhosi to greater heights in the new season after a troubled first campaign at Naturena.
He inherited a team which had broken all sorts of records under Stuart Baxter and after a reasonable start he just could not keep the gold and black express on the rails. After beating SuperSport United on February 20 this year, they won just one game, against relegated AmaTuks, and the referee was extremely friendly that night. I was there.
Had Komphela's men, by now playing two midfielders up front, suffered that sort of form all season they would have ended up out of the top eight, looking over their shoulders at relegation.
Still, two failed cup finals and fifth place in the PSL would, by most standards, be judged “not that bad” by ordinary fans in normal leagues. But in South Africa the AmaKhosi, having won four trophies in three seasons under Stuart Baxter, were hoping for something better. Something a lot better.
Baxter told me on the day he won his second title last year: “Neal, I want to stay, but we need a major overhaul. I can name you 12 players who need to be recycled. And Bobby Motaung will not let me play a role in the changes we need to make. I can’t work like that.”
Baxter then rubbed salt in the wounds six months later when he took over from Gordon Igesund at SuperSport United, lifted the club in to the top eight and won the Nedbank Cup. You could almost feel the anger emanating from the club that has become known as the AmaDrawsi.
But I digress. A year after Baxter was replaced by Komphela, that major overhaul was carried out overnight. On May 31 this year, Motaung announced a list of 20 players who were not longer required.
Bobby, the Football Manager, claimed to have informed each player of their fate, telling them “this is the coach’s dossier on you, you are not needed at Kaizer Chiefs.” One player described his meeting with me, claiming "Bobby tried to ignore the fact I still had years left on my contract, he wanted me to leave without a word."
Remarkably, that list - longer than any I have heard of in 40 years of football reporting - was put out on the club’s official web-site. Some of the rejects claimed that was the first they had heard of it. Others felt it diminished the value of contracted players like Siboniso Gaxa and Siyanda Xulu. I believe it was simply a cost-cutting excercise, though how Chiefs with their multi-million sponsorships can be in financial trouble is beyond me.
The immediate question was: how do they replace those players? Why were the likes of Bernard Parker left untouched? How old is Ivan Bukenya? Can Bobby afford a really BIG NAME signing to thrill the worried fans?
After much speculation, last week we were assured Motaung had worked with Komphela and his agent Tim Sukazi to produce a long list of reinforcements after the apocalypse. But it didn't happen. There was no revelation, no name we hadn't heard meekly suggested in previous weeks.
And there was Komphela telling us: "We cast our eyes far and wide to ensure we brought the kind of players we believe will quickly adjust to our style of play.
"The players we have announced are very exciting. There are a number of changes in the team. We have to get the chemistry quickly so that we can get results.”
He may have fooled some of the fans. But the truth is Chiefs announced a list of just eight players, a mixture of free transfers, swaps and “undisclosed fees” from foreign clubs.
Up front, where Camaldine Abraw - who was announced as “injured for nine months” at the press conference - scored just 4 goals, the hoped-for big-name signing of Tokelo Rantie, unwanted at Bournemouth, failed to materialise.
Instead, Lewis Macha, a one-cap Zambian playing in Mozambique, was joined by Emmanuel Letlotlo, promoted after top scoring in the Chiefs Asidlali reserves, and two Zimbabweans from Chicken Inn, Michelle Katsvairo (not Mitchell as they say up north) and Edmore Chirambadare.
Effectively, with Abraw injured, those four untested strikers - not youngsters, they’re all in their mid 20s - will have to provide Komphela with the spearhead he requires.
Edward Manqele, David Zulu, Bongani Ndulula and Siphelele Mthembu, last year’s largely untried strikers, are all on the OUT list.
Komphela, who ended last season with Siphiwe Tshabalala and Bernard Parker up front during the inglorious season-ending slump, told us: "We are happy with the quality the new attackers will add to the team in the coming season. We will get to see them during pre-season (he really did say that). We truly believe in Lewis' talent.”
And yes, among those four could be another Khama Billiat, given how little the club appears to know about their three new foreign strikers. We can only pray that dream comes true.
But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. So far, Chiefs have given their fans eight cheap replacements and nothing to shout about. They have simply saved money. The one glaring example: Sundowns captain Ramahlwe Mphahlele arrives on less than half the R5m salary Xulu commanded when he arrived free from Rostov as a Bafana Bafana regular.
Below, I’ve given lists of the unwanted players, the new signings and the possible future arrivals, all of the players approached by Motaung in a frenzy since his money-saving release of 20 Naturena refugees. I've even given a list of the players who would command a fee and are thus, for now, not likely to arrive at penny-pinching Chiefs.
My final foolish question is simply this: who would you rather stake your reputation on? Ndulula, Manqela, Mthembu and Zulu… or Michelle, Edmore, Emma and Lewis?
RELEASED BY KAIZER CHIEFS:
Contract not renewed:
1 Morgan Gould
2 Siboniso Gaxa
3 Reneilwe Letsholonyane
4 Reyaad Pieterse
Released from contract:
5 Philani Cele
6 Ovidy Karuru
7 Levy Mokgothu
8 Simphiwe Mtsweni
9 Shandukani Mulovhedzi
10 Chris Matombo
11 Zitha Macheke
Put on transfer:
12 Siyanda Xulu
13 Bongani Ndulula
14 Edward Manqele
15 Siphelele Mthembu
16 Sula Matovu
17 Ivan Bukenya
18 David Zulu (Chippa United)
19 Andisiwe Mtsila
20 Keegan Ritchie (with SuperSport United’s Sibusiso Khumalo)
THE NEW RECRUITS:
CONFIRMED LAST WEEK:
1 Keagan Buchanan, 25, Bloemfontein Celtic (free) Midfield
2 Sbu Khumalo, 26, SuperSport United (swap with Keagan Ritchie) Defender
3 Ramahlwe Mphahlele, 26, Mamelodi Sundowns (free, signed pre-contract) Defender
4 Michelle Katsairo, 26, Chicken Inn (R3m deal) Striker
5 Lewis Macha, 24, Clube Ferroviário de Maputo (undisclosed) Striker
6 Edmore Chirambadare, 24, Chicken Inn (R750,000 deal) Striker
7 Ennocent Mkhabula, 27, SuperSport United (released, free) Midfielder
8 Emmanuel Letlotlo, 18, Asidlali (new contract, promoted) Striker
1 Lebohang Mokoena, 29, Mamelodi Sundowns (free, released) Striker/wing
2 Kudakwashe Mahachi, 22, Golden Arrows loan/Sundowns (free) Midfielder
3 Joseph Molangoane, 28, Chippa United (free) Midfielder
4 Siphelele Ntshangase, 23, Black Leopards (injured, free) Mid/striker
5 Aviwe Nyamende, 23, Shumba Academy (new contract) Defender
1 Thamsanqa Sangweni, 27, Golden Arrows (R4m) Midfielder
2 Evans Rusike, 25, Maritzburg United (undisclosed) Striker
3 Sibusiso Vilakazi, 26, Bidvest Wits (R12m) Midfielder
4 Thapelo Morena, 22, Bloem Celtic (R6m)
5 Prince Nxumalo, Ajax Cape Town (R4m) Striker
6 Anthony Laffor, Mamelodi Sundowns (R4m) Striker
7 Charlton Mashumba, Jomo Cosmos (R3m) Striker
8 Bantu Mzwakali, 22, Ajax Cape Town (R3m) Midfielder
9 Justice Chabalala, 26, Free State Stars (R2m)