Ernst Middendorp has managed to get the best from the players he has at his disposal in 2019-20‚ Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt says of his Kaizer Chiefs counterpart.
Chiefs — ninth-placed finishers in 2018-19 when a loss against First Division TS Galaxy in the Nedbank Cup final saw Amakhosi go to four seasons without a trophy — have confounded expectations by leading the Premier Soccer League (PSL) under Middendorp‚ previously considered more of a journeyman coach and a relegation fixer.
Hunt credits Middendorp and his technical team with getting the best out of a squad that‚ bolstered by clever but previously largely unheralded signings‚ led the league by four points, ahead of Mamelodi Sundowns, when the PSL was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16. Sundowns have a game in hand.
Chiefs had “made one or two good signings”, four-time league winner Hunt said. “And what they’ve done well this year is find a way to play with the players that he [Middendorp] has got.
“They do play a little differently to most teams in SA — the way the team is set up. And that’s all credit to Ernst and his coaching staff. That’s experience. And he’s got that experience. He’s been around for ages‚ and he knows what to do and not to do‚ and he’s proved that again this year.
“To play with those two strikers [Samir Nurković and Leonardo Castro] upfront the way he does, obviously it’s what he’s got. I’m sure he’d want to play with wingers‚ which he doesn’t have, so he uses the fullbacks,” Hunt said.
“I know they’ve been criticised for their style‚ but look at the points‚ and say right now they’re doing well and they’re the team to catch.
“If you look at the old Kaizer Chiefs teams‚ do they have that same swagger and same guile? No they don’t.
“When Stuart [Baxter] was there he won the league playing counterattack football. And fair play — he’s won trophies‚ you can’t take it away from them.
“Everybody wants to play like Barcelona or Real Madrid. But you’ve got to have the players to do that. The bottom line is you’ve got to find a way to get the best out of what you’ve got,” the Wits mentor said.
“You’ve got to give Ernst and his team credit this season for where they are. How they’ve got there — the first games where the goals were disallowed and the referees — that’s gone.”
Wits were in sixth place on 38 points from 21 games‚ 10 behind Chiefs (48 from 22) when the league was suspended‚ though still in with an outside chance at the title as they were due to meet Amakhosi twice before the end of the season.