Giovanni Solinas’ tenure as Kaizer Chiefs coach will test Amakhosi and the Italian’s resolve with the ghost of the last three seasons haunting both the club and the nomadic 50-year-old.
Amakhosi are a rare breed in this trigger-happy environment when it comes to hiring and firing coaches. They give their coaches time and aren’t easily moved by the whims of their supporters when they call for blood.
The Glamour Boys only wield the axe as the last resort instead of using it as a solution to turn things around in difficult situations.
But the club finds itself in unchartered territory after three barren seasons – an anomaly for the country’s Cup kings, who have won every domestic knockout competition a record number of times. The drive to end that drought might force them to do something uncharacteristic should Solinas fail to quickly show where he is taking the club.
It helps neither Chiefs nor Solinas that Amakhosi settled on the Italian after they couldn’t find their main targets, who they lost to teams with deeper pockets. It also doesn’t help anyone that Solinas doesn’t have a Cup-winning pedigree and that he tends to run when things get sticky.
September break will give Solinas a breather
But the biggest problem is that Solinas didn’t have much of a pre-season with Amakhosi as he was appointed just three weeks before the start of the season.
He received his work permit on the eve of their opening Absa Premiership clash with Mamelodi Sundowns, leading him to complain about not having enough time to instil his philosophy.
But the break in September will give him a breather after his baptism of fire that has seen Chiefs record their worst start to the Premiership in a decade, having failed to record a win in their first four league matches.
“We need to exploit this time [the September break] by practising so that we fix our mistakes,” says Solinas, “It’s a good opportunity for us because August was congested with a lot of games. It’s a good opportunity for us to improve. We will practise drills to finish. We will fix our mistakes and continue to improve on our ball possession. We will use this time in the right manner.”
Chiefs have looked good in their build-up play but their finishing has let them down. They huffed and puffed against Maritzburg United last Friday and struggled to penetrate a team that went a man down in the first 15 minutes after Siphesihle Ndlovu’s red card.
“We build up very well,” Solinas says, “We arrive in the box easily. Now we need to improve in this detail [of finishing]. We need to improve our finishing. We need to keep calm. Sometimes we rush when it’s not necessary. We need to keep calm and be more determined. But the build-up play, possession and our combination play is good.”
The Italian’s first few games in charge have shown that Amakhosi’s problems transcend Steve Komphela, who was hounded out of the job by thugs who ran amok at Moses Mabhida Stadium in April, and beat one security guard to a pulp during their pitch invasion.
Even though midfielder Siphelele Ntshangase has been providing champagne passes, and Khama Billiat and Leonardo Castro are combining well, it seems what Chiefs are lacking most is a commanding figure to take the match by the scruff and make things happen in the final third. The signing of Lebogang Manyama will go a long way in solving that problem. The 2016/17 Footballer of the Season is a skilful attacker who has a knack for scoring and creating goals.
Smaller teams lost respect for Chiefs
Komphela tried solving this scoring problem by focusing too much on defence and somewhat neglecting attack and dominance, probably arguing that if he can stop the opponents from scoring that’s half the battle won. He built the best defensive unit in the country to counter their timid attack but that proved useless without a strike force to complement it. This defensive mind-set saw smaller teams lose their respect for Chiefs and becoming emboldened to take them on with Amakhosi failing to exert their dominance.
“When we play defensively, we invite more pressure to our backline. Always having six players at the back will invite opposition players to come forward. It’s something that we need to fix,” Chiefs’ best defender last season, Daniel Cardoso, said just before the start of the seaso.
Despite their early jitters this season, Chiefs have looked enterprising under Solinas, who managed to play exciting football with Free State Stars’ in his previous two stints in the country.
But good football alone will not help Solinas. He needs to deliver a trophy to Naturena to buy himself time and appease the Glamour Boys’ angry and disheartened supporters. The MTN8 is a perfect opportunity to do that, with Amakhosi set to take on SuperSport United over two legs for a place in the final.
“The Cup is another story and the league is also a different story,” says Solinas, “I know that for a club like Chiefs starting with three draws [and a defeat, in the Premiership] isn’t good. But I am confident because we create chances in every game. The league is a marathon. Football is about how you finish and not how you start. This is a horse race. We judge the horse at the finish. There are still a lot of games to be played. The league will finish in May  so we have time to fight for the title.”