By Moffat Mungazi
Compatriots Willard Katsande and Khama Billiat are in the eye of a storm at Kaizer Chiefs following a sustained spell of indifferent form which has seen the South African football giants struggle for both consistency and results.
Just as the pair battles to influence match outcomes, the club has wobbled to patchy performances with precious little to show for their sweat.
As Amakhosi huffed and puffed to an anti-climactic finish last season, they have started this term on the wrong foot. In half-a-dozen games across all competitions, the former champions have been underwhelming below par and mustered a miserly three goals scored against a whopping 10 conceded.
A pedestrian run of just one victory, a draw and a loss in their opening three league games shows how ordinary they have become.
A chastening 5-0 aggregate defeat over two legs to crash out of the MTN8 semi-finals at the hands of sworn Soweto arch-rivals Orlando Pirates further compounds their misery.
Chiefs are presently languishing in unfamiliar territory of the bottom half, nearer the foot of the 16-team table in 11th position.
While their defence has been leaking like wet diapers, their attack has been as blunt as the back of a knife.
This puts the duo’s respective roles at the club into perspective.
Katsande is expected to use his experience as a seasoned player to provide cover to the backline by breaking the opposition’s offensive lines.
Billiat has been entrusted with spearheading the goal charge as the club seeks to restore its past glory.
Yet the two have been disappointing in that regard. They continue to fire blanks.
Put simply, Billiat has hardly been brilliant, while Willard continues wandering in the wilderness. With their form deserting them, their performances have also been failing them.
Tellingly, the former Warriors skipper is now being used sparingly as a crop of emerging players in the squad threatens to usurp his once nailed-on slot in the starting 11.
Sitting out only one game through suspension, Katsande has either not made the match-day squad, hauled off the pitch or came off the bench in the other five matches of this campaign.
Tasked with reviving the faltering fortunes of South African football’s most glamorous club, new coach Gavin Hunt has refused to offer any guarantees or comforts to the club’s vice-captain.
He has already passed his verdict on him.
“These guys (Katsande and Parker) have given some unbelievable service to football. They have won a lot of trophies, they have been here for some time. I understand that people are always looking for something special. But until somebody comes up, like right now with our situation, and puts his hand up and says ‘I am willing.’
“Willard and Bernard both know that these young players are good like the young (Njabulo) Bloem in Katsande’s place. He had a fantastic game (against Maritzburg United), came on and changed the game. But he has to be on a consistent level of playing. I have to give him opportunities, which I will do.
“And he has to keep on challenging Willard, and Willard has to say: ‘These people are on my case.’ Like in all sports, like in boxing when you get older, somebody is going to be better than you,” Hunt was quoted by Goal.com as he spoke to Marawa Sport Worldwide on South Africa’s Metro FM.
With his age now north of the early 30s, the Sakubva-bred Katsande may be forced to endure more spells on the sidelines as he approaches the tail-end of his glittering career.
On the other hand for Billiat, the goal drought has stubbornly persisted with unkindness since last season, during which he only managed a paltry three strikes and two assists in 25 appearances.
This is a meagre return by the standards of a talisman carrying the lofty reputation of being one of the best around.
Khama joined Chiefs from rivals Mamelodi Sundowns to add impetus to their frontline.
The ex-CAPS United and Ajax Cape Town star has been unable to reproduce the scintillating form which saw him conquer the continent with the Brazilians as a Caf Champions League and Caf Super Cup winner to finish as runner-up for the Caf African player of the year based in Africa at the 2016 awards.
Goal involvement contributions to the team, however, remain elusive for the former golden ball recipient and Premiership champion. He is yet to find his full range since touching down at Naturena from Chloorkop.
While publicly backing the talented forward and tipping him to break the goal duck, coach Hunt has been brutally frank with his assessment of Khama.
Said the tactician to soccer magazine KickOff: “He’s a little bit frustrated. Any striker would be frustrated, he hasn’t scored much in the last couple of games, so he’s got to simplify the game a little bit more . . . he tried to be a little too clever, but to be fair, in three games now he has had a good couple of chances. As long as he keeps working hard, keeps running off the ball, keeps defending and doing the right things, he will keep playing.
“But we have got to (get him to) just break the ice, I think if he breaks the ice then he could get a couple . . . he should have scored, where he came across the box, opened up the whole goal, and he had to hit the target there.
“But he is doing well and working hard. Team first, him second, and then we are okay – that is the most important thing. He can’t think of himself . . . he tried to shoot from corner flags and things like that, which is not acceptable, and I told him. So he will get better. As long as he buys in, he will get better.”
The two Zimbabwean stars, therefore, certainly have something to worry about. They need to up the tempo and improve their game. The severe scrutiny they have been subjected to requires them to pull their weight and salvage their Chiefs careers after being cruelly lynched even on social media for being off the radar for a prolonged period.
This has seen controversial South African coach, Mlungisi “Professor” Ngubane wade into trolling Khama by sensationally suggesting that the Chiefs hot shot may have falsified his age downwards. The Manica Post