The Sunday Mail
IT has been a good four years since South African soccer giants Kaizer Chiefs celebrated the joy of lifting silverware.
And just like the players, the coaches have also changed since Stuart Baxter delivered the league title in May 2015.
Steve Khompela, Giovanni Solinas and Ernst Middendorp (current coach) have all had a chance to lead the dressing room.
However, for all the noise bellowing from the stands concerning Middendorp’s lack of charm, what matters is that he gets the team to win matches.
One player that arrived with a reputation for scoring goals, winning games and trophies after a successful spell at Mamelodi Sundowns, will again be called to reproduce the magic.
As a big earner on a six-figure salary, the spotlight will be once again on Zimbabwean international star forward — Khama Billiat — to deliver a trophy.
Yesterday Billiat took a giant step towards helping Chiefs edge closer to ending that cup drought when he featured in their 4-2 penalty shootout win over rivals Orlando Pirates in the Telkom Knockout trophy quarter-final at Moses Mabhidha in Durban.
Billiat’s nine goals and 11 assists, mostly provided early in the campaign when Solinas was in charge, were viewed as not being enough by some sections of the Amakhosi faithful, who saw him fade away when Middendorp took over.
But the general feeling of hope that he will spearhead the revival of Chiefs’ fortunes can never be in doubt, but this is the season that he will be judged, according to former Amakhosi striker Pollen Ndlanya.
Billiat is one of two Zimbabweans at the Soweto giants, with veteran midfielder Willard Katsande being the other.
But there is no doubting that the spotlight is on Warriors talisman Billiat because of his high profile.
“This season we can safely judge him because it will be the second that he will be at Chiefs. It is normal that when you go to a new team you don’t just get going right away, unless you are a brilliant player.
“Billiat did score goals last season, but maybe they were not enough. All the same, I feel he deserves another chance now that he has adjusted to Chiefs. This will be a do-or-die season for him.
“After this season, he can be judged aggressively because he will have had a second chance. The first season was about getting to familiarise himself with his colleagues, but now it’s time to roll. There are no excuses this season, he will be judged by everyone,” Ndlanya says.
The weight of expectation will be on the former Ajax Cape Town forward, who faced criticism despite providing the best input of all forwards at the club last term.
“It is normal that there should be huge expectations on Billiat and I am sure he knows it as well. Being the seasoned professional that he is, he will know how to deal with the pressure on a team desperate to win trophies after so many years.
“We all expect quality from him this season because there will not be a third chance. It is normal for Billiat to be criticised because of the quality that he has. Fans will obviously expect that the standards that they saw of him at Sundowns be matched,” argues Ndlanya.
Billiat has at times appeared frustrated at Amakhosi when balls don’t get to him, which gives weight to the argument that the quality at the club is not at par with Sun- downs.
Luckily, this term the Chiefs squad has been improved with the signing of forwards Samir Nurkovic and Lazarous Kambole, while midfielders Kearyn Baccus and James Kotei have been brought in.
“Sundowns was and is, still a better team, so that is why Khama performed there,” maintains Daniel Matsau, with the retired forward just as forthright in condemning Chiefs.
“Chiefs has an average squad which looks like they are trying to build a team for the future, instead of winning trophies. Yet they have players like Khama who want to make money and win trophies, but they cannot do that because of the average squad.
“Khama cannot be expected to perform every week when he has so many average players around him. The trouble is that Billiat left a better squad at Sundowns to be in an average squad at Chiefs, so he has a lot of adjusting to do,” he says.
As a top earner at Chiefs, Billiat has been the target of every disappointment from last term when the Glamour Boys were not performing. The critics always have the chance to put the boot in when he misses a scoring opportunity.
“Our people still need education about football because they are misguided by analysts on television, who don’t protect our players,” argues Matsau.
He adds: “This then leads to our supporters changing like th weather. They will celebrate you this week then see you as an enemy the next week when you didn’t even get the supply, but they never want to check all those things. At times you also need to appreciate the effort that a player would have put in the team that day.
“Billiat didn’t play badly last season but the challenge is that he in an average team. Imagine if there were three or four players who contributed as much as he did, with all those goals and assists. Chiefs are lacking a creative midfielder because (Siphelele) Ntshangase still hasn’t done much.
“We need to check the service that Billiat is getting before pointing fingers at him. At times he gets tired of working hard because there is no supply. At Sundowns he worked less because his energy was directed in areas where he could score since the supply was always coming.” The attacking riches at Chiefs disposal should mean goals flow this term, provided they are aggressive in the lay out of their line-ups once they have all attacking options available.
This Chiefs team cannot continue being flaky when they have Billiat, Castro, Kambole, Nurkovic, Bernard Parker, Lebogang Manyama and Dumisani Zuma to provide the firepower in the last third.
The fact is that when Billiat played his best football last term, he had Castro next to him and their partnership can never be discounted. So their influence factor will remain a matter of relevance, even through times when their effects are limited by the quality around them.
“They will do better if the team is also doing well,” points out Sundowns legend Roger Feutmba. “You cannot expect the two of them to be cruising when the team is not. It must always be remembered that these two players are part of a team. Inasmuch as Billiat and Castro are quality, I don’t think Chiefs have the squad that can go on to win the league, unless they beef up along the way.
“The Kaizer Chiefs I played against is no longer the same as the one I watch now, which is not even competing for the league anymore despite being the biggest club in the country in terms of both supporters and organisation,” says Feutmba.
“I believe with the quality that Billiat has, the environment at Sundowns suited him best since he was around players that complemented him well. In football you need to have a collective element going before you even talk about the brilliance of the individuals.
“I don’t believe that Chiefs have the type of players and philosophy that Sundowns have. Billiat has already proven that he is a fantastic player.”
For Kenny Niemach- who played for both Sundowns and Chiefs, he has no doubt Billiat will deliver.
“You must always expect something special from Billiat, that is the kind of player that he is. Chiefs will want to reclaim their place as a top team this season. To do that, they need Billiat to pull the strings. “There is absolutely no doubt that Khama will come good this season. He has it at the back of his mind that he has a lot to prove. He is a top quality player who should be overseas,” says Niemach. Niemach feels Chiefs game model should be structured to suit Billiat’s strengths.
“From last season, Khama’s numbers were not bad. It’s only that the team was expecting a lot more from him, based on what he had done at Sundowns. However, what was forgotten was that the game model at Sundowns revolved around him, unlike at Chiefs where they have a totally different set-up. “If the focal point at Chiefs was Khama, then a lot more goals would be expected from him. He would be the shining star that you expect him to be since he is getting the ball all the time. “At Chiefs they have a variety of combinations, some of which don’t suit Khama in the way that he prefers to play football,” Niemach said. — Kick-off/Sports Reporter