- On Saturday, Ernst Middendorp returns to the same stadium where he watched his league dreams go up in smoke.
- With a different club, he has a different mission, to save their Premiership status, something he's done before.
- Kaizer Chiefs, his former club who are also struggling, stand in his way.
The image of Ernst Middendorp standing in the bowels of the menacing FNB Stadium, looking on disbelievingly and dishevelled last year when Samir Nurkovic missed a sitter, from where Bienvenu Eva Nga scored for the now defunct Bidvest Wits, remains the most harrowing of the 2019/20 Premiership season.
It was a super Sunday, one that should have determined the destiny of the league title. It just happened to be one step in Kaizer Chiefs' mother of all chokes; a choke that put South African cricket's legendary World Cup mishaps firmly in the shade.
It's also worth remembering that on that very same Sunday, Mamelodi Sundowns coughed up three points in a home defeat to Baroka FC.
That said game contained a widely circulated video of a desperate Pitso Mosimane launching club apparel into space with his famous left foot.
By the Saturday, to quote Mosimane: "You know the story. You know how this movie will end", Sundowns burgled the league in the last 30 minutes of football action after Chiefs led for 28 rounds.
Such is the nature of the game; Mosimane went on to win four more trophies by the end of the year, while Middendorp trended, as the coach, fairly for the choke and lost his job.
One picture taken at a PSL function of Middendorp walking past the league trophy turned into a legendary meme titled: "Normalise walking away from things that don't concern you."
Can Middendorp be branded as the face of the failure at Kaizer Chiefs?
On the basis of a lost a Nedbank Cup final against an unheralded TS Galaxy and the league choke, the answer becomes straightforward, even though the rot at the Glamour Boys had long set in before he was hired to replace the hapless Giovanni Solinas.
However, Middendorp is back at his favourite Midlands football haunt with a tongue better tuned than a sharpened pitch-fork while reprising his favourite pastime: The Relegation Salvage Battle!
He's done it before and boy was it exciting!
Whether it'll have the same excitement of the 2015/16 season (that had faithful fans following them around) will remain to be seen.
A neat trend from the 2015/16 season is that he's started the year without defeat at home.
In 2021, they beat Bloemfontein Celtic 2-1 while in 2016; they held Orlando Pirates to an electric and memorable 3-all draw at a heaving Harry Gwala Stadium in what turned out to be Mondli Cele's last game for the club.
Cele's death the following morning shocked them, but also cajoled them enough to find the strength to shock Jomo Cosmos 3-1 at Olen Park in Potchefstroom to sink them into the GladAfrica Championship abyss.
Still worth noting, Maritzburg were last on the log leading into the game, Cosmos were 14th and only needed a draw to stay safe.
From Linda Mntambo's 28th minute goal, Cosmos were cruising to the Premiership Promised Land, but 82nd, 87th and 94th minute sucker punches from Mohau Mokate and Evans Rusike saw the Team of Choice not only into euphoria, but saw Middendorp break into a rare but permanent smile.
Maybe last season's choke torture was football's comeuppance for his great escape.
You cannot be a jailbreak expert and a league winner at the same time.
Football isn't kind like that, but it's a giver of second shots at redemption.
Middendorp has another one with a club that always turns to him in its hour of need. Part of his salvage job may also involve sinking his former employers, but with this being football, all bets are off.
Surly-faced Gavin Hunt against Stern-Faced Middendorp - this is the stuff that South African footballing dreams are made of.
True to his form, Middendorp was terse when contacted. "I won't be making any comments," was the robotically correct response.
This is the Middendorp we've come to know and love, but the single-minded and driven Middendorp Chiefs may need to fear, especially with the knowledge he possesses of the players.
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