As 2015 draws to an end it will come to light that the debate on Steve Komphela’s abilities as a coach at Naturena will continue. The lazy bandit will have you think that having lost two cup finals in four months, that is a definitive sign that Steve Komphela is not good enough. Well before they start polluting the air with lots of noise, let me arm you with a few facts.
News of Steve Komphela taking over the reins at Maritzburg United broke at the beginning of Jan 2015. At the time United looked relegation bound sitting second from the bottom. Komphela managed to beat Kaizer Chiefs, Platinum Stars, Ajax Cape Town, Amazulu and Bloemfontein Celtics; and further drew against Orlando Pirates, Chippa United and Free State Stars. So strong was his performance as Maritzburg United coach that he moved the club from the foot of the log to their first Top 8 finish on club history.
He went on to take over at Kaizer Chiefs where he consolidated a 21 point top 4 spot by the Christmas break, four points behind log leaders in Mamelodi Sundowns (5W 6D 1L). Not only that, Steve Komphela managed to play two cup finals in the space for four months. Even more interestingly, he had to beat his former club Maritzburg United and Bloemfontein Celtics to make the MTN 8 Cup final where he lost against a hard running Ajax Cape Town. While in the other, he found himself needing to beat Platinum Stars, MP Black Aces and the two time continental finalists in Orlando Pirates to make the Telkom Cup Final.
Remember that this is a man who has only had 27 weeks to work with this team.
Having said that, the lazy pundit will say it is very difficult to ignore that this is a team that has managed to concede 10 goals twelve matches, while last season they only managed to concede 14 goals the whole season. That is very true, there is no denying the numbers. In fact some people might say that his starting 11 in the Telkom Cup final was questionable. But let me highlight the following issues, which the lazy pundit might conveniently ignore.
Bear in mind that although the team has an average age of 26, the core of the first eleven is flirting with the mid-thirties. Gaxa, Masilela, Tshabalala, Parker, Letsholonyane and now Gould. Therefore, if you consider Komphela’s development credentials, it stands to reason that he also has a development KPI to transition the team to a more tradable age. So with the champion’s league looming within the next four weeks, if he did not throw the Baloyi’s, Gordhino and Mangqele’s of this world into the deep end. Where was he ever going to get the chance?
Secondly the June signings produces a marked change in the attacking philosophy. In Abraw, Mangqele and Mthembu he has three different players who allow him to attack in three different ways. One who plays best with his back to goal, one who runs at the defence and another who is most exquisite with diagonal runs. The problem is I am not sure if they have quite worked out how to adapt the midfield to the three different attacking options.
Lastly, I am not sure people understand the impact of Mashamaite’s departure. His leadership and experience is largely responsible for Baxter’s remarkable defensive record. And the class of player he is shows in his ability to land a contract in Europe at the age of 32. Though the management at Naturena have definitely made an effort to sign defensive players, they are currently sitting with four man markers (no.4’s) and no sweeper (traditional no. 5); who in all honesty, are very difficult to come by. Barcelona FC converted a central midfielder in Javier Mascherano in order to replace Puyol at centre back. Real Madrid converted a perfectly good right back in Sergio Ramos to play centre back to help out a Raphael Verane in his early twenties. It is not like they do not have the money to pay for whichever player they want. Centre backs of Mashamaite’s ilk are just difficult to find. I can tell you Orlando Pirates are going to go through the same thing when Sangweni retires.
The reality is this, if you put all the facts together you will realize that the job at Kaizer Chiefs is as tough as they get in this business; and Komphela’s success is far more complex than a few cup final boxes to tick. So while the lazy pundit wants to convince you that the verbose mentor isn’t good enough for the Amakhosi, bear in mind that 2015 was most probably the best year in Steve Komphela coaching career.