How Kaizer Chiefs' heartbreak of 2019-20 inspired them to the Champions League final
The debilitating blow of Kaizer Chiefs’ final-day choke of the Premiership title in 2020-21 finally also had the rebound effect of inspiring them to one of their finest hours of reaching the Caf Champions League final, caretaker-coach Arthur Zwane has said.
Zwane was asked, after Chiefs’ gritty 0-0 second leg draw in their semifinal against Wydad Athletic at FNB Stadium on Saturday earned them a 1-0 aggregate victory, to put into words the unfathomable, which will have left the continent astonished.
A team that had gone six years without a trophy and suffered a miserable domestic season to scramble eighth place in the league amid a Fifa transfer ban, resulting in coach Gavin Hunt’s dismissal, had stunned one of the most successful on the continent of the last half-decade.
Since 2016 Wydad had been Champions league semifinalists‚ winners‚ quarterfinalists‚ runners-up and semifinalists.
Chiefs had never reached the group stage.
Amakhosi, realising they could not go toe-to-toe with Wydad, defended heroically in both legs, Samir Nurkovic’s strike in Casablanca last Saturday separating the two teams.
Zwane said the blow of leading the league until their final-day draw against Baroka FC in 2019-20, in their 50th anniversary season, which weighed so heavily on Chiefs for most of 2020-21, eventually lifted them and pushed them over the line to the Champions League final.
“This season we couldn’t bring any new players to beef up the team. Apart from that, last season we lost the league in the last 20 minutes,” Chiefs’ caretaker coach Zwane said.
“And that was always going to cause damage, physically, mentally and psychologically to the players. But I believe both happened for a reason.
“I wouldn’t say it was a wake-up call. It was more like, ‘Give your best all of the time.
"When you get a chance to put on a Chiefs jersey represent the badge well, focus, know who you are, what you are made of and what you want to achieve in life, and set yourself goals as an individual’.
“Ja, it did not happen [domestically]. But I remember when we were in the bio-bubble last season we said to ourselves, ‘If we don’t win the league this season, we are going to have to do something big for our supporters’.
“And that something big was this one. There’s nothing bigger than this one. To make everyone happy, our supporters, the chairman, marketing, the people cutting the grass.
“A lot of people played their part.
"We believed that one day we would turn things around. Because we have a lot of positive energy in the camp – everyone is always looking to do things the right way.
“I think it was bound to happen.
"When we said to the players, ‘Something big is going to come’, it was finding ourselves in the Champions League final because we believed and we wanted it the most.
“When it comes to team performances it was always going to be ups and downs. Psychologically the players were not themselves. But they still gave their all.
“And we had so many challenges as well with injuries. Even in this second leg we missed players.
“But we were in a similar situation in 2001 where we had 13 players but we managed to win the Mandela Cup.
"And it looks like history will repeat itself.”
Chiefs’ lone continental success came in the now-defunct African Cup Winners’ Cup, also knows as the Mandela Cup, in 2001.
Zwane was an intelligent, stylish winger in that team.
They will contest the July 17 final at Wydad’s Stade Mohamed V home ground.