WATCH: Lentjies on leaving

2017-07-03 14:33
Maritzburg United will begin their 2017/18 Absa Premiership season without skipper Kurt Lentjies who has signed for Chippa United.

Maritzburg United will begin their 2017/18 Absa Premiership season without skipper Kurt Lentjies who has signed for Chippa United. (Gallo Images)

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Maritzburg United will have a new head coach in newly appointed Fadlu Davids and a new captain at the helm when they start the upcoming 2017/18 Absa Premiership season next month.

Former captain Kurt Lentjies recently joined Port Elizabeth-based Chippa United after his contract was not renewed. He penned a two-year deal with the Eastern Cape franchise. Witness reporter Nondumiso Zakwe sat down with the veteran playmaker at his newly bought home in Pelham in the city, to talk about his unexpected departure. The Capetonian cited “a change of environment” as one of his reasons to leave the Team of Choice. 

The 32-year-old skipper has enjoyed six seasons with the Midlands outfit in two separate spells, and during his lengthy stint, Lentjies has captained the side to a best-yet seventh-placed finish in the Premier Division in the season just past. He played a vital role for the club as they managed to complete the miraculous escape on the final day of the 2015/16 season. The club icon has played the most matches, while also finding the back of the net more than any player who has donned the blue and white shirt in the club’s history to date. 

The attacking midfielder has been influential during the two stints and his impressive performances have not gone unnoticed. According to transfermarket.com, the father of two has played record games at the club, making a total of 157 appearances in all competitions. 

He is the highest goal-scorer in the club’s history with 26 goals, and has the most assists with 28. 

Lentjies has also previously been on the books of Mamelodi Sundowns, Bloemfontein Celtic and SuperSport United. He looks forward to help win silverware at his new home after failing to secure any at Maritzburg, though the playmaker takes heart in the fact that he has in his career appeared in the full Celtic kit to lift the Telkom Knockout trophy in 2012, despite missing the second half of the season due to an injury.

While some fans might think Lentjies’ stay was cut short after a good season he’s just enjoyed had with the club, some see the permanent head coaching appointment of Fadlu Davids as a sign that the club is building for the future and therefore need to free themselves of the past to do so. 

Maritzburg boss Farook Kadodia has thanked Lentjies for his immense contribution to the team’s progress during his many years with the side.

“Kurt has been a very good ambassador for the Maritzburg United brand. As captain he led from the front and made a significant contribution with the club achieving historic results. Unfortunately in football, there are no permanent stays. I wish him well for the future with his new club,” said Kadodia.

Why is Kurt Lentjies leaving Maritzburg?
The Capetonian has been receiving 12-month contract extensions in recent seasons, in line with club policy for players aged over 30. 
Now he will not be offered another contract after six seasons in the first team at the Midlands outfit. He will be plying his trade in Port Elizabeth in the upcoming season. 
In a question and answer session, Lentjies opens up to The Witness regarding his decision to leave the Pietermaritzburg club.


Nondumiso Zakwe — Firstly, congratulations on you move to Chippa United. Talk us through your long-standing relationship with Maritzburg United.
Kurt Lentjies — I was restricted a bit to play at Sundowns [Mamelodi] and I felt that for my age, I wanted to play regular football, and then of course Maritzburg [United] had always been interested in me for some reason. 
From when they were in the First Division, and I was playing for Ikapa [Sporting], we always played against each other, and then when they got promotion, they always had their eye on me. 
Fadlu [Davids] was still a player at the time. So I decided that I need regular game time, especially for my age. I came as a loan for six months, Ernst Middendorp was a coach then. 
Of course the club was fighting relegation which I played my part. After the season, I had to return to Sundowns, but because of the good six months I had in Maritzburg; I felt at home, helping the team as well. The club bought me and made it permanent and I stay for three seasons. After that three-year contract, I only spent two seasons and then I got sold to Bloem Celtic.
I had an injury while I was there, which stopped my progress a bit, but after that I got released by the club and went to Calvin Johnson’s Supersport [United]. 
I spent six months at the club. Even though I was playing regular football there, and the team was doing well, you don’t want to see a team that you’ve enjoyed playing for do bad. Maritzburg had another relegation fight. 
I got a call from the chairman asking if I can come and assist because they were going to hire Steve Kompela as the head coach. I had worked with Komphela in the SA U23 already. I knew who I was going to play for and I knew the club, so it was an easy decision for me. The team wasn’t doing well but I had a soft spot for Maritzburg so I signed 18 months. 
We managed to get out of the relegation battle, and reached the club’s first top eight. The following season was of course the nightmare season that everyone remembers — where we were rock bottom all season. We only won two home games out of the 15. 
We did manage to pull off a great escape on the last day of the season and relegated Jomo Cosmos. It was a new start for us. 
But nothing is guaranteed in football these days and I just feel like now, even though I’ve spent this much time with the team, I think it’s time for someone else to take over. Someone younger than me. And of course with what I’ve achieved at the club — I feel I need to be in a new environment. 


NZ — Maritzburg have just secured only their second top eight berth in the club’s existence, while the Dan Malesela-coached Chilli Boys just passed relegation only via goal difference. What made you choose Chippa over MTN8?
KL — The reason for me signing for Chippa [United], I read in the media that it’s because I want to be close to the sea etc [laughs]. Part of that is probably the last tick in the box. When you move away from home; you go there to work and play football. 
But at Chippa, it’s a new environment, a new challenge for me. 
As a player, when you wake up in the morning, you must be excited to go to work and of course when you’re at a certain club for a longer period it also dies in you and if you struggle to motivate yourself, then it starts to become a bit of a problem. 
I know people will say “you’re not going to play in the MTN8 and you’re leaving a top of the half team for a bottom of the half team”. It’s an established club in the PSL. I think their style of play will suit me in as much as they didn’t get results last season. 
They’re also looking to change the club, bring in new players to start a new project. That’s what attracted me to the club as well. It’s a new adventure for me as much as I have been changing teams. I think you have to go with your gut when it comes to making decisions like this. 
I’m not young anymore and I’m not moving around alone [referring to his family of two children and his wife].


NZ — Apart from Chippa, you’ve been linked with moves to several clubs lately, including Polokwane City and your home club Cape Town City. I know when we spoke you played down the rumours, but now that the cat is out of the bag, what was and what wasn’t?
KL — No, I haven’t heard anything from Polokwane. I read also about Cape Town City and now recently Bidvest Wits as well. But, it’s all news to me. The only team I’ve been in contact with is Chippa [United]. 


NZ — You’ve obviously enjoyed two stints at the club. Do you foresee a third, maybe not as a player next time? 
KL — Definitely! That’s the relationship I have with the chairman [Farook Kadodia]. That’s why I came back for my second spell with the club. I still want to play for maybe another three seasons in the top flight, and then maybe in the First Division after that.
I love football and I want to stay in the game and of course coaching is a bit more complicated than playing, but I’m up for the challenge. I have to go through the stages. Now that I am 32 years old, I am thinking about what happens after my playing days. 
For now, my focus is just what I want to achieve at Chippa. I don’t know how long I’m going to stay, but that’s my goal. If I had to choose to come back to Maritzburg as a player of as a coach, it’ll definitely be as a coach. 
But with me, I’m a winner. I want to win silverware. I don’t want to achieve top eight and just maintain and maintain. As much as you don’t have the depth in the squad, you can still achieve. We don’t need to make examples of the likes of Leicester City [English team] etc. As long as the players are hungry for it and are ready to play for you. 


NZ — Tell us about your highs and lows at the club.
KL — The lowest moment probably happened last season [2015/16] when we lost Mondli Cele, and of course with the situation where we were fighting relegation, you just thing everything is just going wrong, to lose him like that after playing an amazing game against Orlando Pirates. 
It was impossible to recover from. Mondli has been an inspiration to me as well. The way he used to work at training, and how he conducted himself as a footballer. That was the ultimate low for me. 
My ultimate high, I think the most joyful moment after not winning a trophy with a club is probably saving it from relegation on the last day and we also came close to reaching a cup final in the Telkom Knockout. 


NZ — What went through your mind when the fans were booing you against Free State Stars in the season just past?
KL — I think the supporters have treated me well here. They accepted me as their leader and player, though some didn’t. But you know, boos and stuff like that, it happens in football. 
I didn’t finish that game, I think I came off in the 70th minute, but I wouldn’t say I played badly or that I was off-form. 
I just had one of those quite games when the fans obviously expected more from me especially because of my position at the club. 
And also you being the captain and the club is just above relegation and chasing top eight, the fans get frustrated themselves. It was normal for them to get frustrated and point fingers to the leader. Even though I wasn’t given the chance to finish the game, I draw strength from that. Even Cristiano Ronaldo gets booed at Real Madrid for some reason and he’s one of the greatest players in the world. 
So, it’s not something you take to heart. 
You can understand the frustration because they come to the game and want to see you fight for them and win games. 


NZ — What did you think of coach Roger de Sa and his tenure at the club?
KL — You know, records speak volumes. We only managed to win one out of the seven games he was here, which was the Free State Stars game. With Roger, it was a difficult time for the club and for myself as well. But when Fadlu [Davids] took over it was different.


NZ — Glad you mentioned Davids, he’s taken the role permanently now.
KL — I’ve played with Fadlu for two years when he was a player. We’ve always had a great understanding, even though he was the coach and I’m the captain [appointed by Ernst Middendorp]. There had to be that mutual respect between us obviously because we’re both professionals. 
He’s grown as a coach and I’m not surprised of what he’s achieved already with the club. The sky is the limit for him when it comes to coaching. You could see it when he was a player and captain for the club as well. He’s a leader and fighter. I don’t see a better coach to take the club forward. Appointing him was definitely the right thing to do. 


NZ — Do you think the mandate set out for Davids in his period as coach [top five finish and a cup final] is realistic?
KL — Well, it depends what type of squad they’re going to build as well. 
I’m not going to be a part of it, so I don’t know what’s going to happen internally. I don’t know what players they’re looking to bring in.  But top five, it’s a difficult mandate. I don’t want to say it’s impossible but then they’re going to have to go two places above what they’ve achieved this season [2016/17]. 
And getting into a cup final, it could be the easiest route because you play three games before you’re in the final. So, that is possible. But, to beat the likes of Wits, Sundowns, Chiefs [Kaizer], Pirates [Orlando] have not been doing well, so they’ll be looking for a big season next season, the Citizens and Supersport. It’ll be difficult. 
I think the league is getting very tough. It is possible but very difficult.

Read more on:    kurt lentjies  |  pietermaritzburg  |  maritzburg united

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