“A lot has changed, to be brutally honest,” Maritzburg United coach Eric Tinkler says with a bright smile and a confident voice that’s tinged with laughter.
In the space of six months the Team of Choice has gone from fighting for their survival in the PSL play-offs to setting up a date with Mamelodi Sundowns at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday to fight for the Telkom Knockout title.
This was done despite losing two key men, Siphesihle Ndlovu and Fortune Makaringe, at the start of the season. The big question then is, what has changed at the club?
“You’ve got to remember that we have made a lot of changes to the team,” Tinkler said. “There are a lot of new faces that we brought in. That’s probably the most important element, we have a lot more depth in our squad. It was always going to be difficult after losing Ndlovu and Makaringe. I wouldn’t say that we have replaced them, but we have found other players who bring us something different. The players have responded very, very well.”
The Team of Choice’s dramatic turnaround has been inspirational under the leadership of the former Bafana Bafana midfielder. Tinkler has infused a strong work ethic which has seen the KZN Midlands side punch above their weight. Not only are they in a cup final, but they could also finish the year in the top eight after beating Polokwane City 1-0 on Sunday to return to KwaZulu-Natal with maximum points.
“It would be a fantastic achievement (to finish in the top eight and win a cup), what we have done in a space of six months would be a great turnaround,” Tinkler said.
“But we can’t celebrate anything. You’ve got to first do that. We haven’t done that. We’ve got a few games left. We’ve got the final and then (Kaizer) Chiefs at home, massive and hard games. Probably no-one gives us a chance against either team. We’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. To win a cup competition and then finish the year in the top eight would be great, and then we have a short break. The players only get three days off because we’ve got a very difficult month of January.”
Rushine de Reuck has been brilliant for the club. The lanky 23-year-old has provided stability at the back with his solid displays and ability to play from the back. Tinkler cautiously praised the centre-back.
“He’s got a lot of qualities, and I have said this before,” Tinkler said. “But I think that we’ve got to be careful that we don’t over-emphasise this because there is still a lot for him to improve on. His decision-making, there were some errors from him today (against Polokwane on Sunday) where better quality could have potentially hurt us. On the ball he needs to grow a little bit, to have more confidence in terms of his ability. But definitely he is a talent. He can potentially go very, very far.”