|Sorry performance: Itumeleng Khune apologised to AmaKhosi|
THE BIG PSL kick-off looms, and nowhere will pre-season nerves be jangling more than in the big, shiny dressing room for the away team at the fabulous Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
That’s where Kaizer Chiefs and their bruised egos will be sat, their pre-match preparation dominated by memories of last Sunday at a packed Loftus Versfeld, where Mamelodi Sundowns – four goals to the good after just 37 minutes - crushed the mighty AmaKhosi 4-1 in the most one-sided of the MTN8 quarter-finals last weekend.
With DON’T PANIC signs plastered on every furrowed forehead, who will be most worried? Stuart Baxter, the new coach, who is under pressure before the league has even started? Captain Itumeleng Khune, whose amazing on-field rant featured so prominently on our television screens? Zimbabwean defender Lincoln Zvasiya, so clearly out of his depth at right-back last Sunday?
Nope. I reckon it’s Bobby Motaung who will be on the verge of a nervous breakdown come 6pm on Saturday. The son of club founder Kaizer, general manager Bobby has grown up with black-and-gold teddy bears, Chiefs replica shirts and AmaKhosi adulation all his life.
Now, the man who said just last season he would never need to worry about his future employment with “the family business” finds the side he assembled for Baxter is being roundly lambasted by football pundits, rivals – and even the estimated 15 million AmaKhosi.
On Monday, as the shock waves of that Sundowns defeat were still reverberating around the nation, Bobby told SuperSport: "It’s understandable our army of supporters are feeling some pain. Losing is one thing. But conceding four goals in little more than the opening 30 minutes is something else.
“It was hard to believe - we thought we had all the bases covered. But we're all only human and capable of having an off-day. I don't think there is any cause to panic.
"But remember, we would have beaten Orlando Pirates the week before had we not conceded a careless injury-time goal. I believe the hiccups will be eliminated.”
Hiccups? With a back-four now featuring newly-signed international defenders Sibonso Gaxa, Tower Mathoho and Morgan Gould, Khune was forced to deliver a grovelling apology to fans on the official Kaizer Chiefs website which included the immortal line: “The players are as humiliated as the fans by this result.”
And of course, the smooth-talking, CV-massaging Englishman Baxter issued the standard: “The players will bounce back. I know it is a big task, but they will.”
Beset by some nasty pre-season injuries – talismanic Siphiwe Tshabalala was forced to watch last week’s debacle from the packed stands – neither Baxter, Bobby nor Khune have explained exactly how they plan to turn things around with re-signed Siyabonga Nkosi looking erm... resigned to allowing Teko Modise to walk all over him last week.
Still, it’s only AmaZulu. They were crushed 2-0 by Moroka Swallows in the MTN8 and offer Chiefs the perfect chance for immediate redemption.
At Chloorkop, the issues are reversed. Sundowns now have a problem keeping great expectations in check as they prepare to play newly-promoted Chippa United in Atteridgeville.
But their boss Johan Neeskens is happy to put everything on the line, insisting: "I always put myself under pressure, I want to win something this year, if not, if I don't win anything or do well maybe I must step down because I think it is time that we win something."
Now there’s a man who puts his future where his mouth is. With double-treble winners Orlando Pirates looking formidable and Wits signing a host of top names, we’re in for a fascinating championship.
My predictions for week one of the PSL:
Orlando Stadium: Orlando Pirates 3, Golden Arrows 1
Cape Town Stadium: Ajax Cape Town 1, SuperSport United 1
Peter Mokabe Stadium: Black Leopards 0, Bloemfontein Celtic 0
Goble Park: Free State Stars 0, Bidvest Wits 2
Moses Mabhida Stadium (6pm): AmaZulu 0, Kaizer Chiefs 1
Lucas Moripe Stadium: (8.15pm): Mamelodi Sundowns 3, Chippa United 0
Tuks Stadium: AmaTuks 1, Maritzburg Utd 1
Royal Bafokeng Palace: Platinum Stars 0, Moroka Swallows 1