By Chamu Wilson –
The ABSA Premier Soccer League is just in its infancy with most clubs having played three games so far and only a few teams on four, but already so many talking points have risen up.
The best talking point so far is Steve Komphela’s flawless exploits at trouble-plagued Bloemfontein Celtic. Given the way the “English man” was forced to exit the hot seat at Kaizer Chiefs following the Moses Mabhida Stadium riot last season, Steve has given his critics something to ponder about – was the carpenter or the tools to blame for Amakhosi’s lacklustre performance?
After Itumeleng Khune’s remarks that the team could not do well because they failed to understand Komphela’s philosophy and the subsequent silence from the coach, it is interesting that Chiefs’ woes did not depart when the old mentor left the dressing room. If anything, the Soweto giants have slumped to their worst start with a paltry three points to show from their three outings.
In contrast, Komphela inherited a depleted side whose morale was at the lowest ebb following unpaid salaries and allowances, uncertainty over the team’s future and a serious lack of match fitness. Komphela’s trek to Bloemfontein completed a perfect cast for “The Perfect Losers” script.
But inexplicably, Bra Steve has risen from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix. Choosing to keep his cool and answer his critics in the only way he knows how, the coach led Siwelele saMasele to a shock 2-0 win over Chippa United. While fans were still convinced it was a fluke, the green and white outfit inflicted another defeat on Golden Arrows in their own backyard.
The footballing world began to take notice but very few believed the momentum would carry the team past the mighty Orlando Pirates. The Buccaneers, boasting a strong squad and tipped as one of the main challengers to the throne, came to Bloem and left with their tails firmly tucked between their sea-robbing legs.
Celtic have impressively managed to collect maximum points without conceding a goal. In essence, at this stage of the competition, Steve Komphela is the only coach in the Premiership with a perfect record.
His team is comfortably sitting second to Bidvest Wits who have played a game more.
Steve vs Solinas
Bloem Celtic face Kaizer Chiefs in their next game at FNB Stadium on Wednesday 29 August. That game has so much at stake. For starters, it marks the first time Steve returns to Chiefs’ home ground since his infamous departure.
Also interesting is the fact that Amakhosi have in the past struggled to come to the party in front of their home fans. Added to this is the fact that, having spent three seasons with most of the players there, Steve could find it easy to exploit their weak points.
On their part, Chiefs are not likely to roll the red carpet for their former mentor. They, too, want to make a big statement that their campaign has not gone off the rails yet.
When one then considers that the two coaches, Steve and Solinas, would want to seize this opportunity to underline who is the shrewder between them, then one has all the ingredients of a thriller.
A win for Steve will see him exonerating himself from the mess that characterised his three-year trophy-less tenure at Naturena. It will also put pressure on Solinas, whose resumé is, unfortunately, nothing to shout home about.
But judging from Sunday’s MTN 8 semi-final first leg between Supersport United and Chiefs, Bra Steve will have to find a way of diffusing the Billiat-Castro combination that was a handful for United’s defence.
Steve vs Eymael
Like all derbies, the game between Free State Stars and Celtic has always promised fireworks. A new twist has been added to the encounter this season with the arrival of coach Steve.
It is an open secret that Stars coach, Luc Eymael, was interested in replacing Steve at Chiefs. His post-match sentiments after beating Amakhosi in Durban clearly point to a man who was on a campaign trail. With a ball possession of 39 percent to Chiefs’ 61, Eymael must have shocked even himself by declaring that his team dominated their opponents in “every” department. They might have won the match on a technically superior approach but dominance could not be thrown into the fray.
Now the two men will be facing each other, with Eymael seemingly a frustrated man. His behaviour after his side’s 2-1 loss to Golden Arrows where he refused the media post-match interviews bears testimony of a man no longer at ease.
It remains to be seen who will win the battle of the wits and grab the Free State bragging rights.
For now, Komphela can hold his head high because he is Steve(ly) the Best!