Kick Off

A case for the defence

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When their FIFA transfer ban was lifted, Kaizer Chiefs went for more defensive reinforcem­ents than attack as they obviously had concerns over that area of the pitch. Two left-backs in Sifiso Hlanti and Sibusiso Mabiliso, two central defenders in Thabani Dube and Njabulo Ngcobo, goalkeeper Brandon Petersen and two defensive midfielder­s in Cole Alexander and Phathutshe­dzo Nange were brought in. Still, coach Stuart Baxter is yet to settle on his preferred options. KICK OFF’s Lovemore Moyo investigat­es.

The disappoint­ment of ending the season on a minus goaldiffer­ence for the first time in the history of Kaizer Chiefs was exposed in the way the club conducted business in the last transfer window.

Conceding 37 goals didn’t reflect well on the defensive unit, regardless of the difficult circumstan­ces they found themselves in last season.

So, in came Thabani Dube from Richards Bay, while Njabulo Ngcobo was signed from Swallows FC to give competitio­n to the long-serving pair of Daniel Cardoso and Mulomowand­au Mathoho.

Dube arrived following a solid season in the GladAfrica Championsh­ip, which continued at the COSAFA Cup, and being a left-footed central defender added a new dimension to the squad.

All there was to know about Ngcobo was seen at Swallows, where he was arguably the best defender in the league in the last campaign.

Instead of Cardoso and Mathoho being assured of their places ahead of other options provided by Siyabonga Ngezana and Ramahlwe Mphahlele, they now have genuine challenger­s.

Mathoho and Cardoso have played together for most of the last five years, through the period in which they dropped standards under Steve Komphela, went into confusion with Giovanni Solinas, became contenders under Ernst Middendorp, before sinking again under Gavin Hunt.

“Looking back at the games that they have played with three at the back with the two new boys [Dube and Ngcobo] playing with Mathoho, I think this is an option that can work,” says former Chiefs defender Mohammed Ouseb.

Outdated system

The retired Namibian’s opinion could be influenced by the fact that a back three is a formation he played with during his time at Chiefs in the late 1990s.

“For me this system of a straight four at the back is getting outdated. With three central defenders you know that you are always safe because you have three defenders always available with two wingbacks that can do the job as required.

“I think they must stay with three

central defenders. If we are to play three at the back and it works, then we stick to it.

“If it is to happen that the coach [Stuart Baxter] prefers to play a flat four then my two first choice central defenders would be Mathoho and Ngcobo. I don’t want to be thinking about throwing in the new boys [Ngcobo and Dube] in together as yet.

“I think it is still early to do that. One can always try it out because it might work, and they might be our solution to not conceding goals so it is a chance that can be taken but my first-choice central defenders will have to be Mathoho and Ngcobo.

“Pairing any of the two new boys with Mathoho or Cardoso would be the solution. I don’t think pairing Cardoso with Mathoho is the solution because I don’t think they still have it in them to do it together.

“I think maybe the age factor is coming into play as well, so pairing one of them with the energetic new players will be the answer. With regards to Rama, I think he is someone versatile and so can come in to play the wingback position or be at rightback when playing four at the back.

“Or he can even come in to play as a central defender, depending on who is available,” says the 1998/99 KICK OFF Footballer of the Season.

The order of events at the back early in the season has provided all the uncertaint­y still spinning in Baxter’s head about who to play and how to play in central defence.

He has gone with three on some occasions, while using two in other games.

For Thomas Sweswe, who played as a central defender for three years at Chiefs, the solution is simple as the pairing of Cardoso and Mathoho is past their best.

“The best pairing that I think they can use for now is Mathoho and Ngcobo,” he declares.

“You can tell with the way that they are playing that if they can play a lot of games together, then something will come up and they will understand each other well enough to build a formidable partnershi­p, especially with the results starting to come.

“As long as the defence is strong you can win any game and Chiefs have strikers that can score. So, I think with the experience of Mathoho helping Ngcobo, the team will go far because they won’t be conceding so many goals.

“Since the combinatio­n of Mathoho and Cardoso has been leaking lots of goals through the period that they have been playing together, it means they have not been understand­ing each other.

“It is rather surprising that profession­al players cannot understand each other yet they have been playing together for such a long time. To be honest, for me that is not good.

“The Dube boy needs to settle a bit. He is a left-footed centreback yes, but he still has a long way to go because this is Kaizer Chiefs.

“There is no way that they will throw him at the deep end. For now, I think the combinatio­n of Mathoho and Ngcobo is OK and with Dube, he will get his chance to cement his place with time and my hope is that he will do well.

“I think so. With Cardoso … the moment he plays with Mathoho at the back they make a lot of mistakes. So, I don’t know where the coach will use him. For me the combinatio­n of Mathoho and Cardoso doesn’t work,” says Sweswe.

‘Ngcobo is raw and very strong’

Based on what he did last season, Ngcobo evidently has a lot of fans. This explains why there was so much noise made when he didn’t start games early in the season.

“I have been impressed with what I’ve seen of Ngcobo since his time at Swallows, so I have always taken a liking to him,” points out Muisi Ajao, who also once wore the gold and black of AmaKhosi.

“So whatever decision I would make, I would have him as the starter with the question then being who I partner him with. Ngcobo is raw, very strong in the tackle along with being technicall­y good, so he should always be in the team.

“For Dube and Mathoho together they would not be a bad combinatio­n considerin­g

“I DON’T WANT TO BE THINKING ABOUT THROWING IN THE NEW BOYS [NGCOBO AND DUBE] IN TOGETHER AS YET.”

that they have the height and Dube is leftfooted.”

“I know Dube from the time I worked with him at TS Galaxy, so I know that all he needs to do is get his belief up to scratch. I am not surprised that he is at Chiefs today because I told him back then that his destiny in his own hands.

“Ngcobo should play first and be partnered with whoever is available because I see him growing into an Old-John [Mbulelo Mabizela] type of player who can command and play from the back with such effect.

“I wouldn’t have issues if he is to be played with Dube because they are both hungry and have a lot to prove at Chiefs as new players. What I know is that the pairing of Mathoho and Cardoso cannot be looked at as first preference because they have played long enough together without bringing the desired results,” argues Ajao.

With modern football slanting towards a pairing of a left and right footer, Martin Carelse prefers that this be the system employed.

“The reason why Mathoho has been the first option is due to the experience that he brings in the team,” says Carelse, whose career started out at Chiefs.

“I understand why Dube and Ngcobo cannot be left to play together in the centre without someone to guide them like Mathoho. You need to understand the challenges that come with playing at the back for Chiefs.

“I would go with Dube and Mathoho for now because the modern game demands that a team have a left-footed central defender for the sake of having balance. When you play a right footer on the left, the movement of the ball becomes slower,” he notes.

All the same, he has an argument for Ngcobo considerin­g he was the best defender d in the league last season and a feels he can do a job as a holding midfielder m but must be kept there for longer to grow into the role.

“We all know the importance of the role played p by the guy protecting the back four. f Rivaldo Coetzee is doing that for Sundowns S and his advantage is that he has played there longer which is why no longer is making noise. I think Ngcobo is being b groomed to play as a libero in front of o the defence, instead of behind them as is i the tradition.

“The defence needs to be protected by thoset playing in front of them and it is for thist reason that the two central defenders ata Liverpool rarely sweat,” he says.

AllA in agreement

The order of arguments appears to favourf a Mathoho and Ngcobo partnershi­p, ifi Baxter is to play two centreback­s.

“For me I would go with Ngcobo and Mathoho.M I don’t have problems with the othero guys but in terms of combinatio­n thoset are the two players who should start.s Chiefs is from a background of having not won anything in a while, so theyt are hurting and need remedies,” highlights former Chiefs’ defender Rodney Thobejane. T

“There is always this understand­ing which grows with playing together and this is what I would love to see between Mathoho and Ngcobo. Let them play together so that Mathoho helps Ngcobo adjust to the demands of being at Chiefs and grow their communicat­ion as well.

“I understand the argument about a leftfooted central defender, and I don’t dispute that because I saw it with Mathoho and Mashamaite before. This kind of combinatio­n depends on the availabili­ty of the correct player to play in that position.

“Football can be played with two rightfoote­d defenders as long as the understand­ing between the two is there. Baxter needs to quickly decide on who he wants to play because this business of chopping and changing affects the confidence of a player as he ends up not knowing what he needs to do to stay in the team.

“You don’t want to play one game and be on the bench in the next when you didn’t do anything wrong. Players are living in a toxic space which has the social media influence and so things need to be explained to them, instead of being left to wonder looking for solutions.

“THE MOMENT HE PLAYS WITH MATHOHO AT THE BACK THEY MAKE A LOT OF MISTAKES.”

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