Title-chasing Kaizer Chiefs will 'have fans in their hearts' in empty stadiums
Striker Samir Nurkovic says Kaizer Chiefs will play with the fans in their hearts when the Absa Premiership returns in empty stadiums, and as leaders Amakhosi chase an Absa Premiership title in the midst of a bizarrely disrupted season.
Chiefs' title chase - with a seemingly decent but unspectacular squad who had underachieved spectacularly in 2018-19, and a journeyman coach in Ernst Middendorp - had seemed unlikely as it was.
It had also enough drama to it, including this being their 50th anniversary season, and having gone four previous campaigns trophyless, long before the a global pandemic derailed not just the Premier Soccer League (PSL), but the planet.
Now Amakhosi are set for a return to training next week, as the Premiership gears towards a return to play in a single-city, bio-safe environment (BSE) by next month.
Chiefs are used to playing in front of big crowds as a factor in their performance, especially outside of Johannesburg as their cavernous FNB Stadium home ground can struggle to attract good turnouts.
Even at FNB this season, as Chiefs led the league, crowds improved and the atmosphere in the stands lifted the country's biggest club to keep pushing. So closed-doors matches might be expected to affect their return and continuation of the title chase.
Nurkovic said Chiefs might not have their supporters in the stands, but they will be very much in Amakhosi's hearts, as the Soweto giants push to bring some cheer to their legions of fans through tough conditions.
“We [the country] are in a difficult situation right now,” Nurkovic said. “I do feel that when we start again, we can bring joy to the fans once again and help the current situation somewhat.
“It will be strange to play in an empty stadium without the energy of our fans, who have been tremendous this season. But we will continue to play with them in our hearts and hopefully we end the season in a positive way.”
Still in his first season in the PSL, Nurkovic still lives in an apartment in Johannesburg and the lack of a garden affected his training regime in the earlier, stricter, portion of the national lockdown.
He admitted, as Chiefs await the certification from the PSL of the compliance documentation they have submitted for a return to training, that getting back on a field with a ball at his feet will be welcome, and strange, after three months housebound.
“I am definitely looking forward to training. It has been a while since I last trained with the ball,” he said.
“As a professional, you cannot wait to get back on the pitch and do what is relevant to your passion of playing the game.
“At the end of a season we normally have just one month off, but now it has been three months of no proper training. This means as we resume training, we need to be cautious.
“We will be guided by the technical team and coaching staff as we ease our way back. It will be crucial for us to be mentally tough in the days ahead.
“I have watched the [return of the] English Premier League and La Liga. I have noticed how some of the players are unable to complete a full 90 minutes and things like having extra substitutions have helped.
“I have learnt from the other leagues that it is important to manage yourself well as we get back to training and everyone will be important to the team’s cause.”
Nurkovic said Chiefs want to put aside and rise above the setback wrought by Covid-19 and circumstances never before experienced by any other table-topping team of a huge disruption to the season's programme.
“We want to show people that we are not top of the league accidentally. We will continue to work hard for each other and ensure that we make Amakhosi family happy with our performances and results," the Serb, whose 11 goals have been instrumental in Chiefs' title chase, said.
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