Soweto derby loss for Chiefs comes as no surprise

The defected Khama Billiat and Mario Booysen of Kaizer Chiefs loss to Orlando Pirates. Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Another deflating Soweto Derby loss for Kaizer Chiefs and the exit at the semifinal stage of another cup competition highlights the growing crisis at Naturena that threatens to turn the once mighty Glamour boys into one of the 'also-rans' of the Premier Soccer League.

The scoreline might only have been 2-1 in their latest defeat to Orlando Pirates, the first time in history that The Buccaneers have won three games on the bounce against their bitter rivals, but the margin on the field was much greater than that.

Chiefs have now gone 11 games without a win against Pirates, also a new Soweto Derby record for either side, and it shows the steady decline of South Africa's most successful club.

They barely troubled Pirates in Durban on Saturday, their goal a direct result of a defensive mix-up between goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane and defender Happy Jele, while the other half-chances were due to the poor play of the keeper, who particularly struggled under the high ball.

That they stayed in the contest so long was directly due to Pirates' inability to kill them off sooner, but it was another dominant display from coach Micho Sredojevic's side, just as it had been last month in the 2-1 league win.

Much of the focus will be on Chiefs' Italian coach Giovanni Solinas, but at the end of the day he can only do so much with the tools at his disposal.

Chiefs decline is far more to do with the poor recruitment policy of the side over the last four or five years, and the fact that they never adequately replaced the likes of Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Morgan Gould, Tefu Mashamaite and Mandla Masango when they left the team around the time of their last league title win in 2015.

Instead they made poor quality acquisitions from Zimbabwe and Zambia in the likes of Edmore Chirambadare, Michelle Katsvairo and Lewis Macha, when from day one it was clear they were not good enough for the South Africa top-flight.

Chirambadare is now with Maccabi FC in the National First Division, Katsvairo is back home in Zimbabwe and Macha was axed by second-tier Royal Eagles recently and is back in Zambia.

It is perhaps unfair to single out those three because there have been many, many other transfer failures, but they were all signed with the promise of being the next big things for the AmaKhosi.

That they were considered Chiefs material in the first place falls squarely on the lap of football manager Bobby Motaung, who acts as chief scout and is responsible for transfers in and out of the club.

What qualifies him to make such decisions is unclear, but clearly his radar is off and that has been the major source of the team's troubles in recent seasons.

The acquisition of Khama Billiat at the start of this season was certainly a coup and a source for celebration for Chiefs fans and while he has delivered to a certain extent, he is hamstrung by the quality of the players around him.

Even Lionel Messi needs quality support from teammates to shine and while Billiat stands out like a beacon with his ability, those around him cannot match his standard and it reflects in the course of matches.

Chiefs have played 19 matches in all competitions this season and won only six of those, or 32 percent.

They have been beaten twice by Pirates, and also suffered losses to SuperSport United and BidVest Wits, teams who they would consider their peers in the league title race.

Their wins have come against a struggling Free State Stars (twice), AmaZulu and Black Leopards, all teams they would expect to beat, while their only real highlights have been a storming 4-1 victory over Cape Town City and a scrappy 1-0 success against SuperSport.

It is just not good enough for the brand and for the fans, but anybody expecting a swift turnaround in fortunes will be left disappointed. This mess is going to take investment from the Motaung family and a succession of transfer windows to sort out.

Removing Solinas will change little, even if you can bring in a Patrice Carteron or Hossam Al-Badary, because at the end of the day they will have to find a way to be successful with a limited group of players.

An unprecedented fourth season in a row without silverware awaits and while Chiefs currently sit fifth in the league table, they have played 13 games, in some instances three more than the teams around them.

Their truer position based on a points per game ratio is seventh and on the margins of falling outside of the top eight. Unusually for them, they have the joint-eighth worst defence in the league, something that has been the hallmark of their play over the last few years - keeping things tight at the back.

Teams like Lamontville Golden Arrows, Polokwane City and Bloemfontein Celtic, under the stewardship of much-maligned former Chiefs coach Steve Komphela, all have better records at the back this campaign.

All-in-all the numbers stack up badly for Chiefs this season and they cannot blame bad luck or injuries, the simple truth is they do not have a squad that can compete at the very highest level of South African football anymore.