Well, I was one of those who said Kaizer Chiefs will not win the league. Now I have to do the honourable thing, swallow my pride and say congratulations to the champions of South Africa. They really deserved it and did what they had to do, when they had to do it. The thing about Amakhosi this season is that they really learnt from last season when they let a good lead go and lost the title to Mamelodi Sundowns. They now got the results even when they didn’t play the best of games. They really grinded towards the end. Their coach Stuart Baxter put it perfectly after they had wrapped up the title when he said: ‘… we didn’t play better this season, we were just consistent.’ One other thing that went for them is the fact that they did well enough in the first round of the league that it was hard for all the other title hopefuls to catch them in the business end. The Glamour Boys went 19 games unbeaten in all competitions at some point, so you can’t really say that’s a team that doesn’t deserve all the success.
When the season started, there was a lethal combination that was formed in George Maluleka, George Lebese, and Mandla Masango. This was a default combination due to injuries to Siphiwe Tshabalala and Bernard Parker. They really carried Baxter’s boys when they were called to . Sort of like when Sundowns turned to the likes of Surprise Moriri and Lebohang Mokoena when things were really tough last season. Those three at Naturena were complemented by the class of one Reneilwe Letsholonyane in the middle of the park. Yeye is just one of those players, like Moriri, that you just wonder how they didn’t play and make it in Europe. For me they are the best players in the modern PSL, and they just get better and better with age like good wine. Anyway this is not about them and their abilities. But the man from Jabavu in Soweto was instrumental the whole season for the champions, even getting some crucial goals when required. Another guy that should not be forgotten in all of this is Brilliant Khuzwayo. When Itumeleng Khune got injured in that first Bafana camp under Shakes Mashaba, there was a sense of panic in the Chiefs camp about who would take over. The Durban-born goal-minder was top of the pile between the sticks. He really didn’t make the fans miss the precense of Khune. Some might even argue that the title was won by Khuzwayo rather than Khune. He stood tall to the point where even when the latter was fit enough to play, he was still the incumbent.
George Lebese got in there when needed to, getting some really important goals, the most recent one being the first goal in the championship-winning match against Polokwane City. Lebese has been one of the more consistent players for the Glamour Boys. Even when his personal life was splashed all over the papers, he still didn’t lose focus on the field. I seem to remember one incident in particular when Lebese left Rooi Mahamutsa for dead in the first Soweto Derby of the season to set up Siphelele Mthembu for their second goal. This was one the matches that really set Amakhosi up for a huge lead. At Christmas, Baxter’s side had a healthy lead going into the break and were still unbeaten.
The problem then was that they were going to be out of action for more than a month with the AFCON also coming into play. When such lengthy breaks come up, it’s always tricky to tell if it’s going to do a team good or bad. I think if you’re Kaizer Chiefs and you’re in such scintillating form, you’d want to keep on playing. But then again , you always want to guard against fatigue and nurse some injuries. So when things resumed in February, all eyes where on Amakhosi to see if they had learnt from the mistakes they made a year ago. I was particularly hard on them and coach Baxter at that time because in the past two seasons, Chiefs played really badly in the second half of the season. Even when they won the league in Baxter’s first season, they were bad from February.
I remember they played their first match in Bloemfontein against Celtic, which ended in a 0-0 draw. They then played Township Rollers from Botswana in the Champions League, which they won 2-1. Both games were shockingly poor by Chiefs, but the latter was arguably their flattest display this season. It was therefore not a surprise when SuperSport United handed them their first defeat of the season. It looked like the downward spiral had started. Things were not as rosy anymore, and Baxter was feeling the pressure from the media. I was stunned when I got to the FNB Stadium one day and got the team sheet that was inexperienced for a cup clash against Black Leopards.
Suffice to say they lost that match. By the way, Baxter was sent off in that match but somehow attended the post-match presser. Of course the PSL charged and fined him for this. He says he actually asked if he should attend that presser. It reminds me of the infamous Bafana blunder about AFCON qualification when someone didn’t know the rules. So someone at Chiefs doesn’t read the rule book. Anyway that’s not for today. The dream of the Champions League also came to an end pretty quickly when they didn’t do the job against a very poor Raja Casablanca, so they had only one more thing to fight for, the league title.
Now this is where Chiefs showed they are a big team. They did what championship-winning teams all over the world do. They won even when they didn’t play well. They ground out those wins, much like Chelsea is doing right now. They got the 1-0 results when they had to, particularly against AmaZulu and AmaTuks. Now when they hosted Polokwane City last week, they had their tails up and were feeling bullish, putting four past the Limpopo side.
I thought they would be more tense that day, but the one thing about Chiefs is that they have big match temperament. That performace was enough to see them named the new champions, and I think it’s safe to say they deserved it. They have just been better than the rest this season. It was sort of disappointing to see Downs not take it to the wire like they had promised, meaning the boys in Black and Gold have won the title with three matches to spare, the first of which is incidentally against Sundowns tonight(Wednesday). Asked if his players will give Chiefs a guard of honour before their game, Pitso Mosimane answered an emphatic yes, citing that they have to humble themselves and congratulate the champions.
One thing I know is that the Brazilians will want to salvage the last of their pride left in the match proper, and because Chiefs also want to break the record for the 16-team points this season, we are expecting a really good game this evening in Atteridgeville. All in all I think Mosimane is right. All of us who didn’t think Amakhosi could do it need to swallow our pride and admit we were wrong. So I also bow my head to the champions. We also need to congratulate Baxter for winning two titles in three seasons. It is not an easy feat. And I don’t know for sure but I suspect this will be the last trophy he wins at Chiefs. All in all, they are the top of the pile, they are back on the throne like a true chief should. Well done, Amakhosi.