I PREDICT A RIOT – Kaizer Chiefs prove the doubters wrong with title triumph
Fans of South African side Kaizer Chiefs are celebrating this week after the club won its first Premier Soccer League title since 2005, in the process proving their many critics wrong.
Despite falling to a 1-0 defeat at the University of Pretoria on Saturday, Chiefs’ draw against Supersport United three days earlier proved enough to see them fend of competition from second placed Platinum Stars and bitter rivals Orlando Pirates, who finished third.
Unarguably the biggest club in South African football, the Amakhosi have had a pretty lean time of it recently. Their last piece of silverware came in 2010 when they won the Telkom Knockout, and you have to go back eight years since they were last crowned national champions.
That they have lifted the title this year has come as a huge surprise to many people as the club went into the campaign with little to no expectation of league glory. The appointment of Scottish manager Stuart Baxter was met with widespread unhappiness last summer, with critics pointing to a lack of success in a career that has seen him travel half way around the globe.
Baxter did manage to win one league and two cups during a spell in Sweden, while he also guided J League side Sanfrecce Hiroshima to the stage one championship in 1994, however, South African supporters know him as the coach who failed to take their national side to the World Cup of 2006.
Initially snubbed by fans, Baxter got on with his job nonetheless, and subsequently delivered Kaizer Chiefs the holy grail of the PSL title – losing just three league games in the process. Furthermore, he has the chance of guiding his side to a domestic double as they play Supersport in the final of the Nedbank Cup on 25 May.
Baxter took over from interim coach Ace Khuse last July, two months after Serb Vladimir Vermezović had been sacked following a disappointing fifth placed finish. Having watched their neighbours, Orlando Pirates lift two consecutive league titles, the appointment of the unpopular Baxter did little to lift the gloom in the yellow and black part of Soweto.
However, just 10 months later, life is good once more for followers of the country’s most successful club.
The season could not have got off to a better start either, as Chiefs travelled to Amazulu on the opening day of the campaign to thump them 6-0. Baxter’s side then went 10 games unbeaten before falling to their first defeat against Platinum Stars at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium at the end of November.
As it proved, the side from the North West Province would be their closest challengers for the remainder of the season. However, despite a last minute wobble which saw Chiefs pick up just two points from their final four games, the Stars were unable to claw back enough ground on their rivals and finished on 56 points – one behind the side from Johannesburg.
Ironically, it was one of the Chiefs’ former coaches, Mushin Ertugral, who put a brief spoke in the works at the start of May, as his struggling Ajax Cape Town denied the Chiefs a victory which would have tied up the title with three games still to play.
While Chiefs stumbled towards the finish line, both Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates lost on the penultimate day of the season, leaving Baxter’s men needing just one point from their last two games.
Ironically, Baxter was forced to watch his side clinch the title from the stands after he was sent off in a Nedbank Cup game against United FC and suspended for two games. Nevertheless, the coach should not be denied his moment in the spotlight after a fantastic first season in the South African domestic game.
The 59-year-old has got a talented, yet inconsistent squad of players performing at the top of their game and deserves to take a huge amount of credit for guiding Chiefs to the title.
Fired on by the goals of top scorer Bernard Parker (12) and Lehlohonolo Majoro (9), the side have also benefited from Baxter’s decision to allow Reneilwe Letsholonyane more attacking freedom in central midfield. The South African international has played an integral part in Chiefs’ success this season and has enjoyed his best campaign since arriving from Jomo Cosmos in 2008.
Defensive midfielder Williard Katsande has also enjoyed a fine second season in Johannesburg and has formed a dynamic partnership with Letsholonyane in the centre of the pitch.
Baxter now has a week to prepare his team for the upcoming Nedbank Cup Final at an already sold out Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. Victory for Chiefs would complete a remarkable season for the club and their coach in particular. While few gave him much chance of brining success to the Amakhosi at the start of the season, the Scot’s hard work has won him overwhelming backing from supporters of the famous club.
Victory in the Cup Final would not only give Kaizer Chiefs a first domestic double since 1992, it would also hand them bragging rights in Soweto – and that is something they have not enjoyed too much of in recent years.