New Maritzburg United coach Palmer to focus on attack and top 10 finish

2011-03-15 00:00

HE’S the coach who heroically guided Maritzburg United back to the Premier Soccer League by winning the 2008 National First Division title, after the team’s relegation the previous year.

Ian Palmer then suffered the heartbreak of seeing his job, and the side he had promoted, given to four-time league winner Gordon Igesund.

Now the under-rated coach, who many feel should have had his chance in the PSL two seasons ago, has been given the opportunity he so desperately craves to prove himself at the top level in South Africa, having replaced fired Ernst Middendorp on Sunday.

But it’s a whole new ball game at the United Palmer rejoins, and the coach has been handed the unenviable task of saving the team from relegation with six matches to go.

Should Palmer achieve the task of keeping 14th-placed Maritzburg’s nose ahead of the 15th place in the irpromotion/relegation playoff, the reward will be another year in charge and chance to finally build his own PSL squad.

“I think you only know how good you are given the opportunity, and Maritzburg have given me an opportunity,” Palmer said after taking charge of his first practice session at the club’s Ohrtmann Road training ground yesterday.

“People will always say, ‘why at this time, don’t you think it’s suicide?’. But I’m always positive on and off the field.

“I had my first training session and I’m very impressed with what I saw. It’s just a matter of motivating the players.

“People say we’re in a situation but I say we’re not. If we get a victory on Wednesday [against Platinum Stars at Harry Gwala Stadium] there’s a possibility we can go six points clear from Moroka Swallows. That’s not a situation — it’s up to us what we do with it.

“We’re aiming at the top 10 and not focusing on what’s happening at the bottom, because when you do you tend to drag yourselves down as well.”

Palmer has been given a boost with the return to full training yesterday of John Arwuah, whose knee injury had threatened to rule the Ghanaian defensive midfielder out for the rest of the season.

Arwuah and Rudolf Bester (thigh strain) — United’s most consistent players this campaign, and both linked to moves to bigger clubs at the end of the season — will undergo fitness tests today ahead of the Stars game.

“Having Arwuah and Bester coming back, we have the quality. It’s just a matter of getting these players to play as a team,” Palmer said.

“I think the previous coach has done a very good job in terms of fitness and tactically they always keep the midfield compact, which I won’t change.

“I think it’s important for us to focus on the attacking side because defensively I don’t think we’re too bad.”

In his previous stint at United Palmer established a reputation as a “player’s coach” with his simple, effective style of play and no-nonsense but approachable attitude.

Expect Maritzburg to play with a more direct, aggressive gameplan now than the elaborate style they at times flourished on, though also often laboured under, during Middendorp’s reign.

“Maritzburg have played good combination play, good build-up, but I think finishing in their last third has been the problem,” Palmer said.

“What I will focus on is the speed of play. When they win ball possession to get into the attacking third as quick as possible and get the opponents disorganised.”

After Palmer left United he worked as an assistant to Ruud Krol at Orlando Pirates before kicking around back in the NFD at African Warriors, United FC and Blackburn Rovers.

The former Pirates striker will be all too aware how difficult it is for coach with a reputation for doing well in the NFD to break into the PSL, and knows this is probably the best opportunity he will get for some time.

“It is, and what I like is that 90% of the players we will still have next year,” he said.

“You want to start competing and move away from the constant fighting of relegation.

“If, or rather, when, we survive it will be easier because we will have the core of the team together …” concluded the new coach.

Maritzburg United’s programme until the end of the season

Tomorrow: v Platinum Stars (H)

Wednesday, April 6: v Free State Stars (A)

Friday, April 15: v Wits University (H)

Sunday, May 1: v Mpumalanga Black Aces (A)

Saturday, May 7: v Mamelodi Sundowns (H)

Saturday, May 21: v Ajax Cape Town (A)

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