Kaizer Chiefs’ topsy turvy 2022/23 season reached its conclusion on Saturday with the team finishing fifth in the final DStv Premiership standings, following a 1-0 defeat against Cape Town City at FNB Stadium.
Despite the disappointment on the day, coach Arthur Zwane feels he has learned a lot over the course of his first season at the helm of a top-flight professional side.
On the weekend, Amakhosi could not raise their game for one last push to hold onto fourth spot. A patch-work line-up of sorts tried in vain to unlock the stubborn Citizens’ rear guard on a frustrating afternoon for the Amakhosi faithful.
However, the coach believes the reason can be traced back to a fortnight earlier.
“We had a lot to play for today,” Zwane said after the Cape Town City game.
“We were playing for three points to consolidate our position and we didn’t do that. Obviously, I am disappointed but I also feel sorry for these players. I think they gave everything and believed adamantly that we would go to the (Nedbank Cup) final, and from that game (losing the Nedbank Cup semi final to Pirates) they never recovered.”
While conceding that they weren’t sharp enough on Saturday, Zwane could not find fault with the effort and commitment of his playing personnel.
“When I look at them today, they tried but our best was not good enough. We had the advantage in this game. We tried to make a few changes so we could have width and depth and try to penetrate their defence, but we didn’t pick the right pass or create enough space. Our tactical flexibility was not up to scratch,” he admitted, adding, “So, we did try to score, even though I wouldn’t be happy with a draw. We wanted to win. When you are Kaizer Chiefs you always want to win but it was one of those games and the players will keep learning because in football you never stop learning.”
Zimbabwean striker, Khama Billiat, made what must be one of the shortest substitute appearances in PSL history when he replaced Ashley Du Preez a few minutes before half-time but didn’t emerge for the second period after aggravating his injury.
Zwane explained what appeared to be a bemusing situation at the time: “It is. sad when you see a quality player like Khama suffering from injuries. He was due to be back a week before the semifinals and we wanted to build him up. If I had all my players available today I would not have taken the risk with him, and the plan was to play him for 20 minutes at a time.”
“Unfortunately,” Zwane bemoaned, “we found ourselves in a position where we had no striker when we lost Ash (Du Preez), and we needed a player of his quality. I told him I didn’t want him to make too many runs because we are trying to build him up and we need his quality in holding the ball up and creating space for others to make runs. But after only a few minutes when I saw him limping I thought ‘here we go again’.”
Billiat was replaced by Mdu Shabalala, who, together with fellow academy graduate Samkelo Zwane, was tasked with conjuring up the creativity to launch Amakhosi’s comeback. It did not materialise, although the coach places no blame on the youngsters.
“Now, when you lose players like Ash and Khama, as we have at various times during the season, and most of the senior players were not available today, in a way, it sums up our season,” Zwane offered in mitigation.
“We haven’t been able to get consistency with our line-up. We wanted to build a team around a certain core of individuals but we couldn’t because those experienced, quality players were not available. Now, the responsibility was on the shoulders of the youngsters to rise to the occasion and at some point they were bound to crack because of the pressure,” added Zwane.
Having enjoyed a glittering career as a Glamour Boy, as well as years of technical work in the Club’s academy structures, nobody understands the demands placed on representing a brand of Kaizer Chiefs’ stature quite like Zwane. He knows all too well that underwhelming results will not be abided for long. Yet, he remains resolute in his belief that he is the right man to take Amakhosi forward and is certain that the lessons he has learnt during the campaign will bear fruit next season, as Amakhosi chase the titles and trophies that have eluded them in recent years.
Responding to doubts surrounding his future, Zwane responded, “If there’s one thing football has taught me it is you have to have a big heart. I’m a hard worker and in football you develop a thick skin. I am not the first one that has been in this situation. I have seen coaches struggle in their first season and they come up differently the following season. For me, it has been a learning season in terms of being at the head and making decisions, with the help of the other technical team members, but I have always been supporting coaches who were here before, and now I have support from those around me. I would say it has been a productive season for me because with introspection I can see where I did okay and where I can do better and not repeat some things going forward.”