Celtic a neat fit as Komphela looks to rebuild reputation

Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela during the 2017 Maize Cup match between Kaizer Chiefs and Township Rollers Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix

Steve Komphela's arrival at modest South African Premier Soccer League side Bloemfontein Celtic could turn out to be a shrewd career move as he seeks to rebuild a shattered reputation after three barren years at Kaizer Chiefs.

Celtic confirmed on Wednesday that they had secured Komphela on a two-year deal with an option for an extra season as they seek to return to the top half of the league next season with a squad that is unlikely to feature many big-name signings.

Komphela joined Chiefs in 2015 having built his reputation following two excellent spells with Free State Stars and helping unfashionable Maritzburg United into the top-eight.

But he left almost three years later amid scenes of fan violence after a 2-0 Nedbank Cup semifinal loss to Free State Stars, with many fans pinning the team's poor performance on him.

It is a very simplistic view of what was going on at Naturena though. Komphela may well look back on his tenure and admit mistakes, but he was also badly let down by the team management.

The transfer policy, for which he had little say, was woeful and when the likes of experienced stars Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Tefu Mashamaite, Morgan Gould and Mandla Masango were allowed to leave before he had even taken charge of a game, he faced an uphill battle.

Since then the club essentially made just two signings out of almost 50, including players promoted from the juniors, that you could say were an unqualified success - defenders Daniel Cardoso and Ramahlwe Mphahlele.

For others the jury is still out, but the vast majority have not lived up to the standards of the club and that cannot be put on Komphela's shoulders alone. Yet he had to make something out of what he had.

I said all through his tenure at Chiefs that I believe Komphela is a very good coach who has an excellent football brain. And he has proven that in the other jobs he has had in the PSL.

He did become a bit one-dimensional coach at Chiefs, though whether that was down to his coaching style or having to work with the players at his disposal, time will tell. At Celtic he will have the chance to prove it was the latter, and perhaps this is the environment in which he works best - getting more out of players than perhaps even they believe is possible, rather than working with star names and expecting them to give 100 percent every week.

Certainly, it is a view held by Celtic owner Max Tshabalala, who believes they have the right man to succeed the Serbian Veselin Jelusic. "Our strategy was to get a reputable local coach with immense pedigree who can take us to greater heights and in Steve we found an appropriate candidate," Tshabalala was quoted in a statement on Wednesday.

"Last season was complicated and we failed to achieve our goals however, we have now acquired the services of someone passionate, hungry for success and willing to bring the excitement synonymous with Celtic supporters."

Tshabalala then confirmed that Komphela will be expected to work within the tight confines of the club's budget, with many new signings unlikely.

"He has the judgment, knowledge and experience. He promotes the youth and has an exceptional eye for raw talent and that is exactly what we need as a team," Tshabalala said.

Komphela was both a player and a coach at Free State Stars, and hails from Kroonstad in the province, so for him to set up residence in Bloemfontein will feel something like coming home.

It is a club that looks after their own - assistant coaches Lehlohonolo Seema and John Maduka; and club CEO Khumbulani Konco all played for the team for many years and have stayed on in the backroom.

They have admitted too that the financial difficulties mean they are seeking a new buyer for the team, though the urgency of the sale from a few months ago appears to have diminished.

They are not in great shape, but still provide a solid base from which Komphela can work and rebuild his reputation to achieve his ultimate goal, which is to coach the national side.

He has come close before after leading the team for two games as a caretaker coach in 2012 after the demise of his great friend Pitso Mosimane.

Then he narrowly missed out to Gordan Igesund for the position full-time, but if he can get Celtic firing again in the top eight, he will surely in time become a contender again.