Kaizer Chiefs’ local dreams and global appeal

The Soweto Derby brings South African football to a standstill in anticipation and excitement, whenever the two hometown giants collide on the pitch.

It’s a game, though, which reverberates well beyond South African borders, but also across the African continent, and indeed across the entire football world.

From its very inception, Kaizer Chiefs have always been global in outlook and ambition. Amakhosi’s signings of the likes of Namibia’s Herman ‘Pele’ Blaschke, Malawi’s Jack Chamangwana and Zimbabwe’s Ebson ‘Sugar’ Muguyo in the club’s early years immediately ensured Chiefs were not only a major South African brand, but one much loved across the African continent.

It’s a tradition the club has continued over the years through signing some of the stars of continental football from Zambia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Burundi, Ivory Coast and Swaziland to name just a few countries that have been touched by the Chiefs stardust.

And this year in particular football-mad Nigeria and Zimbabwe will be paying the Soweto Derby close attention, as will fans in Kenya, Zambia and many other corners of Africa.

 

Daniel Akpeyi’s yeoman efforts for Amakhosi since he signed in January 2019 have earned him the respect and adulation of Chiefs fans, and also earned him plaudits back home in Nigeria.

 

His Chiefs form has earned him a sustained recall to the tough-to-crack Nigerian Super Eagles squad, who he helped to the 2019 African Cup of Nations semi-finals, and for whom he has consistently been part of their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying squads.

 

“The Soweto Derby is very big all over the world. It is one of those derbies recognized as amongst the top five in the world, alongside games such as Real Madrid against Barcelona, the Manchester derby or the Milan derby. It’s huge. There are many other big derbies around the world, but we need to focus on ours. That’s the most important thing. We need to win games and we need to make our fans happy. We need to do whatever we can to ensure we come out successful in this game. That’s why we need to put 100% effort into the Soweto Derby,” Akpeyi told www.kaizerchiefs.com this week.

Akpeyi’s Nigerian compatriot, William Okpara, achieved legendary status for the Buccaneers between the sticks in the 1990s, and Akpeyi says Nigerian interest in this year’s Soweto Derby is further piqued by having another Nigerian playing for Pirates at the moment in defender Olisah Ndah.

But while Akpeyi is conscious of the hype around the game in Nigeria, he is adamant he needs to keep the focus on his and the team’s performance this weekend.

“My club form for Kaizer Chiefs has helped me get back into the national team. We have quality goalkeepers in the setup here at Kaizer Chiefs. I know the national team head coach Gernot Rohr, understands that sometimes when I don’t get to play those other goalkeepers also need to play, but that doesn’t change the quality of who I am. That’s the reason he’s decided to give me an opportunity, even if I don’t get the opportunity to play week in and week out,” says Akpeyi.

Another national team favourite, Khama Billiat, says the Soweto Derby is a big game “we grew up watching in Zimbabwe and one of those games we did not want to miss”.

“It’s a big, big, big game Zimbabweans want to see, want to watch, want to enjoy. They respect it so much back at home. We as players respect it and we are blessed to be part of it,” Billiat told www.kaizerchiefs.com.
Sensational Zimbabwean footballers over the years for Amakhosi included trailblazer Muguyo, the likes of Knowledge Musona, Tinashe Nengomasha, Willard Katsande, Robson Muchichwa and many more Warriors who “set the standard high” for players like Billiat.

“They paved the way for a lot of Zimbabweans to come and join Kaizer Chiefs. Knowing your fellow countrymen played in this game. You wonder how they managed to stay so calm on the day and put up a good performance. I’m fortunate to know many of them personally, and we talk on the phone a lot, we listen a lot, we communicate, we try and take a lot of positive things that they tell us about and try to ensure the mental preparation is at the right level,” says Billiat, adding in conclusion “their motivation is really special for us, it makes us not overthink or be carried away, but to make sure you are ready for the occasion”.