Middendorp insists Chiefs' main goal has always been winning the league
Kaizer Chiefs have had one ambition from day one of the 2019-20 season - even when others saw such a plan as absurdly ambitious, says coach Ernst Middendorp - which has been to win the Absa Premiership.
There's still a long way to go in the PSL: Chiefs have nine matches to play, while their deadliest rivals, second-placed defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns, have 10. And Amakhosi have games against Sundowns and two against tough, sixth-placed Bidvest Wits amongst those.
But certainly Chiefs took a big step towards a league title in their 50th anniversary season, under the added pressure of reversing four seasons without a trophy, with a fighting performance to beat third-placed Orlando Pirates 1-0 in Saturday’s Soweto derby at FNB Stadium.
Such ambitions before the start of the season – with Chiefs coming off a ninth-placed finish in 2018-19 and having made largely unknown-quantity signings – were regarded with some incredulity.
Given the pressure of the circumstance of the derby, it was an even bigger win. Chiefs had seen their lead cut from nine to four points from a home defeat to Maritzburg United, and booted out of the Nedbank Cup with a penalties loss against Highlands Park.
A defeat against Pirates would have seen their lead effectively cut to one point, if Sundowns won their catch-up game. That might have been game over for a team far less experienced than Downs at clinching trophies.
The script in the build-up to the derby was that Chiefs would crack under the pressure to in-form Pirates.
What they responded with was not a perfect performance. But it was a fighting one, Chiefs holding Josef Zinnbauer’s dangerous Bucs, thanks in no small part to Daniel Akpeyi’s immense performance in goal, troubling Pirates using less possession more effectively, and scoring the 31st-minute goal from Lebogang Manyama that counted.
It was put to Middendorp that such performances make championship teams.
“Ja, no, I’m always smiling about it if other teams are talking about they ‘don’t want the championship’, or they want this. We have a very clear objective, from the beginning – on the first of August last year, before we started on August 4,” said the Chiefs coach.
“I know [people were] smiling all over – ‘What is this crazy man doing or saying?’ And even I said it [that Chiefs were pushing for the title]. Coaches were looking at me and saying, ‘How can a club pressurise the team in such a way?’
“And I said, ‘No, let’s restart - and let’s do stuff differently.' If you do something differently, you will probably have different results. If you always do the same - in terms of training, in terms of guiding, putting stuff together - you are not getting results. I’m not quoting Einstein.
“I think this is a very crucial element when we talked to the players, gave them the right guidance and mentoring.
“But in the end I’m always saying, players - individually and collectively - these are the main force we are seeing at Kaizer Chiefs.”
Chiefs, now with a seven-point lead over Sundowns, meet AmaZulu next at FNB Stadium on Saturday.