It's buy or cry for Chiefs
MAMELODI Sundowns might have saved Kaizer Chiefs by destroying them.
On Sunday, Stuart Baxter's wobbly warriors ceded a trophy in their first serious game of the season - but at least he has been duly warned. The Englishman has three weeks in which to plug some gaping holes in his squad before the transfer window closes.
In his defence, Baxter can point to three injuries that weakened his side's cause on Sunday: to Siphiwe Tshabalala, Siboniso Gaxa and Keegan Ritchie. And the new central defensive pairing of Morgan Gould and Eric Mathoho can only improve. Critics have suggested that the "Twin Towers" are too similar but it's far too soon to draw conclusions. Both are intelligent, classy defenders who could strike up a title-winning rapport. Stranger things have happened.
The truly troubling weakness in this Amakhosi squad is a large hole in front of the back four, shaped remarkably like Tinashe Nengomasha. When the Zimbabwean destroyer defected to Wits millions of eyebrows were raised. During a decade's service at Naturena, "The General" had become the heart of Chiefs, if not their soul. Nengomasha is far from the complete holding midfielder - he's not a cultured passer and hardly ever scores - but he has more mongrel than the SPCA.
At Loftus Versfeld, the central midfield duo of Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Siyabonga Nkosi looked positively poodlish when confronted with the snarling aggression of Downs enforcer Hlompho Kekana. Both Yeye and Nkosi are elegant, clever distributors. In tandem, they will never win a midfield dogfight against the PSL's best. The Bucs axis of Andile Jali and Oupa Manyisa - "The Militant Midgets" as my former colleague Kgomotso Mokoena calls them - will eat them for breakfast. In the succinct words of Chopper Reid, the Chiefs engine room needs to harden the f*** up.
So what does Baxter do? Gamble on the raw 21-year-old Lucky Baloyi or the unproved Willard Katsande ahead of "Yeye"? Or go shopping for a commanding, accomplished successor to Nengomasha, as the fans demand?
Problem is, the PSL shelves are not well-stocked with available, top-class central midfielders and Chiefs will be late to market, where their big rivals have been busy.
Supersport United has snapped up the excellent George Maluleka from Ajax Cape Town, and big-spending Wits has signed Matty Pattison and classy Botswanan prospect Ofentse Nato. Sundowns grabbed Thamsanqa Sangweni from AmaZulu. And Pirates captured the seasoned Onyekachi Okonkwo from abroad to give Jali competition.
Who's left? A bid for Arrows' Bafana international Thanduyise Khuboni might be worthwhile but he seems to lack the necessary oomph and presence for the job. Perhaps Kagisho Dikgacoi, a more dynamic holding midfielder, could be prised back from England.
But Dikgacoi would cost a few quid and Chiefs are, to put it diplomatically, fairly conservative in the transfer market. The big defensive signings made this winter - Gould, Mathoho and Gaxa - have siphoned more than R20-million from under the Naturena mattress, when signing-on fees are factored in. There might not be many millions left.
But this is no season for false economies. Pirates are still mighty. Sundowns are frightening. Supersport are resurgent. Ajax are due for a comeback. Wits are on the rise.
To send a soft-centred side into the fray would be foolish.