High hopes for new United coach

2009-11-17 00:00

MARITZBURG United have gone for a wealth of experience and technical knowledge in the appointment yesterday as coach of Ernst Middendorp in the former German Bundesliga boss’s second stint in South Africa. He coached Kaizer Chiefs from 2005 to 2007.

Middendorp (49) replaces Gordon Igesund, who parted ways with United last week after a season-and-a half in charge.

The German coach won the Vodacom Challenge, Absa Cup and SAA Supa 8 with Chiefs in his first season, finishing third in the league. He was fired after a run of poor form midway through 2006/07.

Since coaching the Amakhosi, Middendorp returned to his signature club, Arminia Bielefeld, saving the Bundesliga side from relegation and restructuring a team whose average age was 32. The following season infighting and poor form saw the coach fired.

In 2008, Middendorp coached Chinese team Changchun Yatai on an eight-month contract, taking the team from 12th to sixth place.

In May this year the coach joined Cyprus club Anorthosis Famagusta, but was fired after the team was eliminated from the new Europa League in July.

Middendorp is best known as being voted coach of the century at Bielefeld in the club’s centenary in 2005 ahead of coaches such as Greece boss Otto Rehhagel. This was for saving an almost insolvent Bielefeld from relegation in 1988 and taking the team from the Third Division to the Bundesliga in three years from 1994.

The coach has been back in South Africa since August — he has a house in Johannesburg — which he says will stand him in good stead on his return to the PSL.

“I have attended many matches and watched all the teams in that time, which makes it a bit easier coming to Maritzburg. I already know all the players’ names here and a bit about their strengths and weaknesses. And of course I have an idea how the other teams play,” Middendorp told The Witness yesterday.

The coach has signed with United until the end of the season with an option to renew for a year should the relationship work well. He said he believes the squad he has inherited from Igesund has some potential.

“It’s difficult to make a judgment from the outside. There have of course been some great results like a 1-1 draw against Orlando Pirates and beating Kaizer Chiefs 1-0 in Johannesburg. Even when losing against Sundowns [5-1], the first half was really balanced but in the end they got hammered.

“But it shows a bit of the situation and I see a lot of good players and a lot of young talent — Felix Obada, Chilis [Madondo], JB [Ncubeni], even a player like Rudolf Bester coming from Namibia at 26, for whom it’s a new world.

“There is space for improvement — the players can be developed as individuals and as a team. I don’t think we can expect [midfielder] John Arwuah back before January, but other guys like Elias Ngwepe and Bheka Phakathi have to take over.

“Of course it’s all about how they react to the new coach. Everybody’s different — Gordon is different, [Pirates coach Ruud] Krol is different, I am different. I have a clear understanding of what I want from the players and we don’t have much time, so the players have to improve.”

The transfer window opened on Sunday, but Middendorp said he will not buy hastily.

“We will have a clear look at what is available. I’m not one to grab whatever is there. I think right now we really must focus on our team, and of course search to see if there are players not really being used elsewhere who are of good quality.”

Asked what he hopes to achieve at United, the coach replied: “I have this understanding that the management here wants success, they want to see the team get to the top eight.

“They want to see the coach is working and making an impact. I think it’s a fantastic situation and I like to work with the players especially.”

The coach has his work cut out for him in his first fixture on Saturday, against top-placed, two-times champions SuperSport United at Loftus.

“SuperSport are a very tough team and I’m convinced they have the quality to win the championship a third time,” Middendorp said. “But there’s always a possibility they will underestimate us and let’s go for it — there’s nothing to lose.”

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