Ernst Middendorp. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/MICHAEL SHEEHAN
Ernst Middendorp. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/MICHAEL SHEEHAN

A colleague recently received a stinging rebuke from fiery Kaizer Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp that left him simultaneously bemused and amused. The combustible German mentor was apparently unimpressed with my colleague’s stinging examination of his at times perplexing approach to the game during the business end of the season.

The incredibly candid Durban native with the bohemian ponytail thought it fit to share his honest views. Now let’s get this straight, I’ve known my colleague for yonks and the most dishonest opinion he’s ever offered in the years I’ve known him was telling Sunday Times sports editor Bareng-Batho Kortjaas that he’d lost weight in all the right places after the Christmas break, and informing mop-haired ex-boss Simnikiwe Xabanisa that he was a snappy dresser and should have been on the cover of Vogue magazine.

Suffice to say, the notoriously fiery Chiefs coach was not amused when the analysis of his regime came to his attention and he saw it fit to fire back a retort. The hack was initially stunned when he saw the communiqué, and after he had digested the insulting tone of the German’s pen that morning, he sat up and quietly articulated his thoughts in a more measured manner.

But while my colleague likes to see the funny side of things and laughed off Middendorp’s very personal missive, the reality is it gave hint to a bigger problem. The fact is Middendorp cannot deal with criticism and has such a thin skin that he is willing to sacrifice anything to make his point when someone has the temerity to challenge him.

Maiden title

Put yourself in my colleague’s shoes: the coach of a wildly popular club that is in a commanding position to win a first league title in five years is so annoyed with a story written by a lowly journalist in Johannesburg that he sees fit to communicate his unhappiness to the prickly hack at all costs.

It doesn’t matter that it could potentially cost him a maiden league title as a coach in all his years on the bench. It also seemingly doesn’t matter that it could cost him the unique bragging rights of telling future generations that he won a league title on the 50th anniversary of one of the biggest clubs on the continent.

Hell no, clearly none of this matters when a lowly journalist challenges him and it makes perfect sense for him to get distracted and go to war. What the actual blazes!

Middendorp had been stuck in the Premier Soccer League bio-bubble in Johannesburg since the beginning of August and you would have thought the musings of a journalist would be like water off a duck’s back. Not Middendorp! Oh, hell, no. The man could not keep calm and had to vent.   

The fact is this petty nonsense was hardly a surprise as I’ve also received delightful sweet nothings in my inbox from the fiery German in the past after sharing my thoughts about him on these hallowed pages. He let me know what he thought of me and did not hold back.

I can’t imagine Middendorp lasting five minutes in a toxic environment like that

But folks, this is the jarring difference between the volatile coach and his Mamelodi Sundowns rival, Pitso Mosimane. The Special One never allows trivia to distract him from the prize and in fact thrives under scrutiny and criticism. This has been a hallmark of Mosimane’s regime since assuming the reins at Patrice Motsepe’s club and spearheading a relentless charge to five league titles in seven years.

He does not get distracted easily and, in fact, managed to pip Chiefs to the title on the final day of the season on Saturday while avoiding numerous well-sharpened knives, some from inside his beloved Chloorkop home.

He revealed at the weekend that the list of those who hope to see him fall is long and includes people who continue to draw salaries at Chloorkop while plotting the demise of the same employer in the shadows.

I can’t imagine Middendorp lasting five minutes in a toxic environment like that. He is far too fragile and doesn’t have a skin that thick. The thing is, Kaizer Motaung affords all his coaches a comfortable, stress-free environment and all mentors are allowed to do as they please, even when it’s very clear that the vote of confidence is misplaced.

Middendorp’s fate at Chiefs will be decided in the next days or hours, and while he will probably thumb his nose at these pearls of wisdom, he needs to develop a thicker skin and learn a thing or two from Mosimane. He will need it at his next destination.

• Follow Ntloko on Twitter at @ntloko​m

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