Absa Premiership

Ernst and Maritzburg renew their vows

Ernst Middendorp (Gallo)
Ernst Middendorp (Gallo)

Pietermaritzburg - Ernst Middendorp arrived at Harry Gwala Stadium on Tuesday for his third unveiling as Maritzburg United coach, and he did so with the calm and ease expected of a man who had done this all before. 

"The stadium is the same, the journalists are the same," he said bluntly. 

Even Middendorp's kit bag, stamped with the letters "EM", was the same. 

"That's from the last time," Middendorp said of the faded blue bag that had done the rounds during his last stint at the club between 2012 and 2013.

What isn't the same, though, is the task at hand. 

Maritzburg are currently rock bottom of the PSL, having collected just six points from 12 fixtures this season.

Relegation is looming large, and the Team of Choice have turned to a man who knows the club better than most in their time of desperate need.

The negotiations between club and coach were brief. 

There is, after all, little more that Maritzburg can learn about Middendorp, who first took charge in 2009.

"Out of our experience working together over the years we know each other. It was not necessary to put something in place," he said.

"I think the main focus is to be busy with the way forward … which is to make sure that on May 21, 2016 the team is in the PSL. That is my focus, I’m not busy with anything else."

But what is it about Maritzburg United that keeps the 57-year-old coming back? He had joined Free State Stars when they were pointless after three games this season, reviving their campaign and guiding them to mid-table by Christmas.

And, the club confirmed, there had been offers from clubs in eastern Europe for Middendorp after he abruptly left his post at Stars just over a week ago.

"I like the colour blue," he offered.

"I’ve been in this business for 22 years … I think it’s stubborn if you burn bridges … don’t do this. Sometimes a club is making a decision and sometimes a coach is making this decision but it doesn’t mean at a certain time, at a certain period later, that it is not possible to work.

"I never was thinking that I will not come back to Maritzburg. I went back Arminia Bielefeld three times in the Bundesliga … why should it be a rule? Not at all."

While chairman Farouk Kadodia confirmed to Sport24 that Maritzburg are looking to bulk up their strike force and goalkeeping department in January, they would only do so if the right players were available. 

Middendorp, meanwhile, seems more focused on the current players in the squad and getting them moving "in the right direction". 

The future is daunting, especially considering Maritzburg's next four fixtures are SuperSport United (away), Orlando Pirates (home), Golden Arrows (away) and Mamelodi Sundowns (home). 

But Middendorp, dubbed "The Tactical One" by Pietermaritzburg media on Monday, has no fear.

"I know that at this stage it is unusual after the number of games to only have six points with a goal difference of -15," he said.

"I know it's a difficult task and a difficult challenge, but when I went to Free State Stars in September they had 0 points.

"When I went to Golden Arrows in 2011 there was pressure - five games to go until the end of the season and you have to win three otherwise you are relegated.

"When I went into Bielefeld in 2007 ... into position 18 and everybody was asking if I was smoking something. It was huge challenge and we ended up in 12th with only 10 matches remaining.

"I went into Bloemfontein Celtic in October 2013 and they were in 13th and we ended up in 5th at the end of the season.

"I'm sorry, it looks like I am just doing it for the first time and I am scared about this moment ... it's not the first time.

"I can continue going even into Iran and China if you want to hear ... I have done this several times ... several, several times."

Hopefully, for Maritzburg's sake, Middendorp will be able to look back at his latest spell in the Midlands with the same fond memories.  

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