It is traits such as hunger and a never-say-die attitude that have seen Amakhosi stand head and shoulders above their counterparts.
Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp may be casting out his demons of the past but it appears as though his troops are picking up where he left off, creating a euphoric combination that’s grinding for results this season.
During Chiefs’ 3-2 Absa Premiership win over Orlando Pirates on Saturday, the Soweto Derby lived up to its lofty billing in the last five minutes of the game, emotions hitting the rooftops as a heated exchange erupted on the pitch. During that scuffle, Eric Mathoho shoved Abel Mabaso at the neck – an incident that saw him getting his marching orders as 10-man Chiefs hung on for full points.
During the post-march press conference, an incensed Pirates coach Rhulani Mokwena labelled the incident as a form of “thuggish behaviour”, insisting that it deserved more than a red card if there’s to be growth in South African football.
However, Middendorp – who was the temperamental coach with a sharp tongue that fought with bosses, opponents and journalists in his previous life – cut a calm, composed and modest figure in his response to the allegations.
In fact, he even had words of wisdom for the young Mokwena, saying: “You don’t have to kiss each other or boil out, and with the preparations having gone three, four days before the 90 minutes then you intentionally provoke someone, that’s something that happens.
“Some coaches are taking it (the loss) and some need an hour or more to process it.
“I’ve already got a friend and I don’t need another one.”
Given that Mokwena came across as a sore loser, Middendorp set a beautiful picture that showed he’ll only allow his players’ actions on the football side to do the talking on the field of play.
With Chiefs two matches away from ending their four-year trophy drought as they are in the semi-finals of the Telkom Knockout, it is traits such as hunger and a never-say-die attitude that have seen Amakhosi stand head and shoulders above their counterparts.
The German tactician has a uniform selection criteria, playing players based on merit and not popularity, hence they have the best scoring record and the joint-second best defensive record.
Youngsters such as Njabulo Blom and Happy Mashiane, who were promoted by Middendorp, have fitted like a glove in the first team and are working tirelessly to be in the match-day squad week-in and week-out.
And players who were on the fringes have fought hard to remain part of Middendorp’s plans.
In the recent transfer window, Leoanardo Castro was put on the transfer list by the club but he never dropped his effort, and that was duly rewarded after he was retained this season. And so far, the Colombian international has repaid the faith shown in him by the coach, scoring three goals in seven matches this season.
Having such a hungry group of players has put Amakhosi on top with 28 points after 11 matches, in which they have won nine, while their blemishes have been a draw and loss to SuperSport United and Polokwane City respectively.