How Leonardo Castro went from fringe to front-line at Chiefs
Striker comes in from the cold as coach Ernst Middendorp recognises his ability
Ernst Middendorp says he realised during preseason that a rejuvenated Leonardo Castro could be a huge asset to Kaizer Chiefs in the 2019-20 season‚ especially in partnership with Samir Nurković.
Castro’s brace on Wednesday night in Chiefs’ 3-0 50th birthday match win over Highlands Park at FNB Stadium‚ which saw Amakhosi extend their lead at the top of the Premiership to six points‚ took the striker to seven goals in 12 league and cup matches.
His six goals in nine league games puts him at joint-eighth in the PSL‚ and his partnership with Nurković (eight league goals) is a large part of Amakhosi’s free-scoring form at the top of the log.
Castro was missing suspended front partner Nurković against Highlands‚ and took the responsibility to lead the line.
Yet in the off-season Castro nearly left Chiefs.
He apparently had struggled to establish a relationship with Middendorp after the German’s arrival in the second half of 2018-19‚ when Castro scored only four goals in 21 league games for the campaign.
Talks were held‚ and Castro impressed Middendorp in preseason training‚ with the positive noises the coach was making on the striker by late July sounding the death knell instead for Madagascan Dax‚ as Chiefs had to cut their foreign quota.
“It’s unbelievable‚ probably it was my fault‚ I don’t know — until May I even didn’t know he was able to speak English in a proper way‚” Middendorp said.
“He was not really inside the team. And then he started showing up in a different way. We started to unlock attitude and unlock a certain direction with all this experience we had in the final six months of the 2018-19 season.
“I saw it quickly during the preseason. I thought: ‘Wow‚ this is something that could work’.
“In particular with Samir and him‚ to have two players upfront who are really putting a stamp in a different direction‚ and not really known in SA‚ with a certain power and physical presence.
“We made a decision quickly. Everybody was happy — he [Castro] wanted to stay. With a clear understanding — the contract was there. And we moved on.
“I think he’s one player with something outstanding. “I’m happy for him that he’s so successful.”
Chiefs meet Cape Town City on Sunday at FNB (kickoff 3.30pm).