Solinas ready for the season

“I know the expectations are very high,” comments Kaizer Chiefs’ new coach Giovanni Solinas, ahead of Saturday’s opener of the 2018/2019 Absa Premiership season. “It will be a tough game, but we are ready.” But he also points out that, “In football you need time, because one can’t change too much overnight.”

The Italian coach joined Amakhosi three weeks ago, putting his pen to a two-year deal. Since, he has been made to feel more than welcome at Chiefs Village. “There are a lot of great people working here, both on the field and at the office,” Solinas comments. “It shows what a big club Kaizer Chiefs are. All the ingredients are available to perform at the top level.”

The 50-year-old coach received his work permit on Monday and will therefore sit on the Chiefs bench against Mamelodi Sundowns for the first time. Amakhosi participated in one tournament and two friendlies during pre-season: the Maize Cup, the Shell Ultra Helix Cup and the Mpumalanga Cultural Xperience Cup. Solinas watched all four games from the stands. “The advantage of watching the match from the stands is that you have a clearer view of what is happening on the pitch,” he reflects. “But the disadvantage is that you are unable to communicate with the technical team and the players, which is sometimes necessary.”

While sitting in the stands, it is also impossible for the head coach to discuss the game with the assistant. “Four eyes are always better than two,” explains Solinas the importance of sitting on the bench and being able to exchange thoughts with his assistant, Patrick Mabedi, evaluating what is happening on the field. At least, now that the Italian has his work permit he’s able to sit on the bench for this season’s first league game.

The coach adds that he had “to recover time”, because he missed out on a part of pre-season. “I am busy implementing my philosophy of football, which is attacking football,” Solinas continues. “That takes time and that’s a reality. We have to be patient. But I am extremely happy with the attitude, the commitment and the focus of the players at training. We are working hard to improve the tactics, fitness and psychological approach.”

About last week’s friendly against Cape Town City, the coach says, “We played very attacking football with Leonardo Castro, Khama Billiat, Bernard Parker and Siphiwe Tshabalala all starting, while the full-backs went forward as well. There was also good penetration from the midfield. However, we need to strike an intelligent balance between attacking and defending. What happens in football on the ball is as important as off the ball. We are working hard on all these aspects of the game, including attacking movements. However, as mentioned earlier, this all takes time.”

Solinas regularly uses the words “time and patience” and rightly so. He points out that it even took Alex Ferguson a while to get Manchester United to win trophies, before becoming a legend as the world’s best coach. “To prepare a winning team takes time,” the Italian points out. “That’s not an excuse, that’s the nature of football. I know that the supporters want to win trophies and that’s what we all want. That comes with pressure, but that’s no problem. I am used to pressure. We are working hard to fulfill the fans’ wish to get a trophy. We will fight for our jersey, our colours and our badge to defend our honour.”

The coach originates from Sassari, an old city on the island of Sardinia. “We have the best beaches in Italy,” he boasts with a broad smile on his face. “The island is a big tourist destination.” He left the island at the age of 18 to play as a defensive midfielder for a variety of Italian clubs, before moving into coaching. He has one daughter, Magda. And, like most Italians he loves to eat pasta and pizza. “I don’t have a preference,” he remarks.

On Saturday’s league opener against Mamelodi Sundowns at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld, the coach comments: “Playing against the reigning champions is never easy. Sundowns started their season early, because they had to play African Champions League games. They are the favourites for this season and they have a fantastic coach in Pitso Mosimane, who leads his team in special ways. I would have preferred to have played them next month, but this is how it is.”

As a closing comment, Solinas mentions enjoying the Kaizer Chiefs’ motto of Love & Peace. It sounds nearly as beautiful in Italian, as the coach translates, “Amore e Pace”.