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Small Team Effect

Written By Themba Khumalo on Monday, February 25, 2013 | Monday, February 25, 2013

All my predictions from last week have been totally off the mark. Both Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns won their matches and are through to the next round of the Nedbank Cup. Amakhosi were very convincing against the students while the Brazilians did enough just to win. Platinum Stars managed to come away with victory from their clash against Dynamos. What is more pleasing for Dikwena is the fact that they achieved this win under some very extreme conditions at the Giyane Stadium. 

The one team which I least expected to lose was Orlando Pirates. Losing 4-1 to Maluti FET College came as a huge surprise to the majority of football fanatics, let alone the Pirates’ supporters. Most people have labelled this poor performance by the buccaneers as “utter humiliation” but I tend to differ. What happened to the ghost is perfectly normal. They were hit by a rare phenomenon in football which is called the ‘small team effect’.

This occurs when an unknown, amateur or semi-professional team is faced with an unimaginable task of playing against a big team like Orlando Pirates. The prospects of sharing the same arena with the players you idolise serves as a great motivation to do well. The hunger to showcase to your talents, fuelled by knowing that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, encourages players to do wonders on the pitch. On the day Maluti FC was driven by these considerations and they successfully pulled a Baroka on the mighty bucs.

The best way to avoid this phenomenon is to approach a game of this nature with a relentless attitude. Sundowns can tell us how it’s done. They netted twenty-four times against the unknown Powerlines FC last year in the same competition. This time around they only scored one goal against Ajax which was enough for them to go through. Credit must be given to Pitso Mosimane and his players for turning things around after a dismal start to the season. One of the things that Pitso has managed to do right which Johan Neeskens failed to do is:

·         be humble and understand the social background of players
·         respect the needs and demands of Sundowns supporters
·         apply tactics and methods that are suitable for local football 

Neeskens had a great deal of arrogance about him. His attitude towards the media and supporters left a lot to be desired. He was not willing to accept the realities that come with being a coach in the PSL. The players were not responding to his so-called sophisticated methods. Eventually, player power got the better of him. He retaliated by benching big-name players and throwing the inexperienced ones into the deep end. Through his stubbornness to adapt, he ended up putting his life in danger and turning Sundowns into a joke.  

Let’s hope other foreign coaches who come to work in this country have learnt from Neeskens’ situation. One of those who seem to have done exactly that is Stuart Baxter. His managerial philosophy at Chiefs is proving to be very innovative and result-oriented. The players are responding well to him. However, there are two crucial factors which have also contributed to his success. The first one is that he took over a squad that was very demoralised and emotionally abused by the previous coach, Vladimir Vermezovic. So the attitude of the players immediately changed for the better when they knew they were getting a new coach.

The second factor that is currently playing to Baxter’s favour with regards to exercising his authority at the club is the absence of Bobby Motaung from the spotlight. As part of Kaizer Chiefs’ PR strategy to protect their brand, he is keeping a low profile following criminal charges of fraud and forgery that were alleged against him. Stuart Baxter is one of the very few managers to enjoy this privilege at Naturena and is taking full advantage of it. 

It remains to be seen as to whether or not his impressive run continues when Chiefs takes on Wits University in a league match on Saturday. This is definitely the biggest tie in local football this coming weekend. The students will be looking for revenge while Amakhosi will be looking to stay on top of the log. As hot as they are – I hope Chiefs do not win this one.

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