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Kaizer Motaung and Kaizer Motaung Jnr. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LEFTY SHIVAMBU
Kaizer Motaung and Kaizer Motaung Jnr. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LEFTY SHIVAMBU

Nine years is such a long period of underachievement it is hard to see Kaizer Chiefs suddenly changing ways, or even being able to rectify so much dysfunction that has been allowed to manifest, to avoid going a decade without a trophy next season.

A photo has been shared of a young fan at Chiefs’ embarrassing Nedbank Cup first round defeat against Milford FC at FNB Stadium on Sunday with a sign, to paraphrase, reading: “I am nine years old, I have never seen Chiefs lift a trophy”.

The penalties defeat confirmed Chiefs, no-hopers at sixth place in the Premier Soccer League, will go to a ninth season without silverware in 2024. It is worth pausing to think about that statement. The reports on the fifth season trophyless, the sixth, the seventh have numbed football supporters to a reality that is astounding.

This is SA’s biggest football club, the one-time trophy machine who, from their formation as a breakaway from Orlando Pirates in 1970, swept all before them in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. Their trophy haul matched their distinctive gold attire.

The citadel Kaizer Motaung Snr built was, akin to their sparkling Naturena base at the Kaizer Chiefs Village, made of gold.

Can there be another club globally that boasts such a beautiful facility that has not won a trophy in as many years? Their previous longest spell without a trophy was a season. Now it is nine. That is staggering.

When Motaung Snr began the project of constructing Chiefs’ village — with its gyms, beautiful fields, academy, indoor pool, video, analytical and medical facilities — he could not have envisaged its materialisation accompanying by such a drought. Where did it all go so wrong?

Perhaps a personal account that might go a small way providing an answer to that question involves an email. It was sent on January 4 2023. The author was the writer of this comment piece. The recipients were officials at Chiefs. The point of the email was to request, as the new digital sports editor of TimesLIVE/Arena, a cordial meeting with some of Chiefs’ relevant decisionmakers and officials, just to touch base and foster relations. Easy and simple enough, right? Wrong.

Foster relations

More than a year later, 11 more emails exchanged in both directions, some ignored for weeks by Chiefs, assurances and promises made but not kept, that meeting has not taken place. Some of said officials have meanwhile been taken to many radio station appearances. Chiefs are not the only club to have begun prioritising radio and TV almost to the extent print media seems forgotten as a medium that sometimes tells stories best and produces some of the most in-depth journalism.

But it’s a meeting, for goodness’ sake. To foster relations. Intended in the best spirit. That is too much to ask?

This might sound like a personal gripe. OK, perhaps it is a bit. But there is a wider point. When a great club that for a decade set standards of professionalism cannot be asked to simply set up a meeting, to respond adequately to an email request from a reputable media house, how do they win a trophy?

Most Chiefs supporters have a good idea what the issues are. They do not need to be explained again in great detail.

The biggest: Chiefs, for their huge sponsorships and stature as one of SA’s best-marketed sports teams, their huge merchandising sales to a support base of millions that is the envy of teams in all sports, have not reinvested enough of that back into success on the field.

This has led to the fans’ lament that they continue, influenced by Amakhosi’s excellent marketing, to buy jerseys costing comfortably more than R1,000, but are not rewarded with the reinvestment in players that will bring success and make them proud to wear the shirt.

There is more. Chiefs have felt the pressure of now all-conquering Mamelodi Sundowns have put on the transfer market and in standards of back-room staff. The business model in which the club — apart, surely, from many investments — is the family business, does not seem sustainable in an era in which oligarchs such as Patrice Motsepe bankroll teams such as Downs, Manchester City and Paris St-Germain to a seemingly limitless extent.

No ambition

But Chiefs do have money. In many transfer windows they are outshone by smaller clubs with far less resources. SuperSport United’s professionalism, combined with an excellently functioning — better than Chiefs’ — academy and willingness to spend in the market, less in the post-Covid-19 environment, but still often more than Amakhosi, has kept the Pretoria club more competitive than Chiefs.

There is a definite lack of ambition in Chiefs’ signings, accompanied by a policy that the club should not have to part with more money just because prices are raised when they come knocking. That seems unrealistic — it’s a situation most big clubs have to deal with.

A weak signing policy must be off-putting to the big-name coaches Chiefs should be lining up. And are they even lining them up?

The family nature of the business, and apparent factions that have formed in the leadership structure as Motaung Snr has tried to groom his adult children — Kaizer Jnr, Jessica, Kemiso and Bobby — to take over the club has resulted in some poor decision-making.

During the nine-year slide Giovanni Solinas — the Italian coach whose Free State Stars had played some solid football, but who had never won a trophy — was appointed to a Chiefs who had gone what then seemed a long three years without a trophy. Chiefs appointed Dutchman Rob Hutting, who had never coached above amateur level — most of his teams in Germany or Holland were in the fourth‚ fifth or sixth divisions — as a technical adviser in 2018 on “aura and personality”, Bobby Motaung said then.

At the start of this campaign — now eight years into a trophy drought and the club baring the load of the pressure accompanied by that record — Chiefs again appointed a coach who had never won a trophy in Molefi Ntseki. He replaced Arthur Zwane, a young coach and former club playing legend who, yes, had never won a trophy.

Yet even a coach with an excellent trophy record, Gavin Hunt, could not end the drought, though admittedly amid a one-year transfer ban. Did Chiefs err in not allowing Hunt time to build once the ban was lifted?

These are multilayered issues. Pitso Mosimane — the former Mamelodi Sundowns and Al Ahly coach with a remarkable trophy record, who turned the Brazilians from an outfit fighting relegation and without silverware for six years into the trophy machines they are now — is most Chiefs’ fans favourite to engineer such a necessary revolution at Naturena.

He was available when Chiefs fired Ntseki in October but now has joined Saudi club Abha.

Even if things go quickly pear-shaped at the relegation battlers and Mosimane becomes available before the 2024-25 season, and even if Chiefs show a huge about-face in ambition luring him, the turnaround needed to prevent the march to a decade without a trophy would take a superhuman effort.

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