Billiat a great addition for Chiefs, but not enough for the title

Kaizer Chiefs coach Giovanni Solinas has not convinced the club's fans of his credentials yet. Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Kaizer Chiefs coach Giovanni Solinas will take his place in the dug-out when the ailing Soweto giants begin their Absa Premiership season away at defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday.

The Italian coach has received his work permit and can officially start his job some three weeks after he was appointed to turn around the fortunes of South Africa's most popular club.

Chiefs confirmed on Tuesday that his paperwork is through, and fans will no doubt be eager to hear his vision for the club this week, in the build-up to what is a massive match for the team.

So far there have been no media engagements and he has cut a solitary figure in the stands during pre-season, unable to lead the team from the side of the pitch as they slipped to high-profile defeats to Sundowns and Cape Town City in warm-up matches.

Those performances will have done little to raise the hopes of Chiefs fans this season, after a disastrous 2017/18 campaign in which they won nothing for the third successive year and were twice sanctioned by the Premier Soccer League for pitch invasions by fans, the second a particularly nasty and violent affair in Durban.

Their at-times tortuous search for a new boss saw them rebuffed a number of times before they decided on Free State Stars coach Solinas, who can now officially begin work more than three months after his predecessor Steve Komphela walked out on the job.

Chiefs finished third last season, but were 12 points behind Sundowns in the table and in truth were always on the fringes of the championship race.

They had the best defence in the league, conceding just 22 times in 30 games, but only four clubs were blunter in front of goal, their tally of 27 goals the worst in their league history.

It is this area that Solinas will have to improve in the coming campaign, and if pre-season is anything to go by, he has his work cut-out.

The arrival of Khama Billiat on a free from Sundowns is a big-money gamble as they splashed out on wages to pull in a player they hope can both score and create goals.

Billiat is a class act and showed what an asset he can be at Sundowns, but there are a couple of issues to pick apart with regards the Zimbabwean international.

Firstly, the pressure on him will be immense from day one - given the investment that the club made in him from a financial point of view, and the investment the fans have made in his arrival from an emotional point of view. He cannot afford to fail.

His signing has been widely greeted with great joy among the club's faithful, but those smiles will quickly turn to frowns if he cannot deliver the goods in the opening weeks of the season.

Chiefs fans expect their strikers to score goals and many before have been hounded out of the club by dissatisfaction from the stands. You can go back into recent history with the case of another Zimbabwean, Kingston Nkhatha, who was bullied so much by supporters that then-coach Stuart Baxter had to publicly call for a stop. Not that the boo-boys listened.

The second issue with Billiat is whether he will fit into the system, and the kinds of players he has around him.

At Sundowns, and Ajax Cape Town before, he was successful in sides that played to his strengths and were attacking in their nature. They also moved the ball at pace.

Chiefs have tended to be more cautious and ponderous in their build-ups, and don't have much speed within their frontline in Leonardo Castro, Ryan Moon, Bernard Parker and an aging Siphiwe Tshabalala.

It will surely be a priority of Solinas to change that, but so far he must be looking around the squad and scratching his head as to where the pace will come from.

There is a sense that this Chiefs squad is far too predictable in the way it will play, but Billiat does bring a little bit of x-factor to the equation.

Having said that, it is a lot to rely on one man to do it all alone.

And the club's other attacking import, the Madagascan playmaker Andriamirado Andrianarimanana, mercifully more simply known as Dax, has yet to arrive in camp after a dispute with his club Fosa Juniors.

He is untested in the PSL and may take some time to settle, if he ever arrives, but could add another dimension.

In the goalkeeping, defensive and central midfield positions, Chiefs are well-stocked and have few concerns. There has been good continuity in recent seasons in terms of building up those units and it is bearing fruit.

They have players who can provide width, but are Joseph Malongoane, Philani Zulu and Bongi Jayiya really the kind of players to help you win the championship?

Despite the addition of Billiat, which is an excellent signing, it is hard to see Chiefs going toe-to-toe with the likes of Sundowns, Orlando Pirates, BidVest Wits, SuperSport United and even Cape Town City over a 30-game league season.

Unless they make significant additions to their squad, it may just be a sense of déjà vu for AmaKhosi supporters, with a finish in the three to five range in the table.

There best bets come in the cups and there they do stand a good chance of winning something, especially with their quality defence that gives away very little.

They may well break their trophy drought this season, but the league championship will be a bridge too far.