Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Virgil Vries has this Saturday to prove whether he is the real makoya for the Glamour Boys.
This is the view of some of the league’s once-colourful shot-stoppers ahead of the much-awaited Absa Premiership clash between Chiefs and their Soweto rivals, Orlando Pirates, at the FNB Stadium this weekend. Kick-off is at 3.30pm.
Vries has made some significant blunders recently, threatening his team’s title aspirations, but he still remains Chiefs’ preferred choice in the absence of Itumeleng Khune.
Khune is nursing a broken shoulder following a collision with midfield strongman Willard Katsande during a training session.
In what is surely an indication of the Amakhosi’s lack of conviction in Vries, Chiefs recently signed Nigerian international stopper Daniel Akpeyi from Chippa United.
But the Nigerian national team keeper still needs time to acclimatise to the Chiefs environment and Vries is the only experienced keeper in the camp, although Chiefs also have promising academy graduate Bruce Bvuma as a reserve.
Vries’s recent failures have left several Chiefs fans sceptical.
They argue that the Namibian national team stopper’s mistakes in at least three games are enough to question his credibility.
Vries infuriated them during an Absa Premiership match against Mamelodi Sundowns on January 5 when he prematurely came off his line and was left a spectator as the ball bounced in front of him and straight into the back of the net. Chiefs, who were the first to score, went on to lose the game 2-1.
Not long afterwards, in the Confederation of African Football game against Zambian side Zesco United, Zesco midfielder Anthony Akumu fired a long-range shot that caught Vries unawares, leaving him stranded about 20m off his line. Chiefs lost the game 2-1 (5-2 on aggregate) and bowed out of the competition.
Vries again became the villain after failing to hold on to a cross and spilt the ball, resulting in a 1-0 loss against Cape Town City at the FNB Stadium on January 30.
“Such experiences make you stronger as a player. I’ll grow from this. We win as a team and also lose a team,” Vries said about his mistakes.
But club fans remain divided and the signing of Akpeyi in the final hour of the January transfer period has been viewed as the writing on the wall for the former Baroka FC goalkeeper.
Former Mamelodi Sundowns and Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Andre Arendse believes that Vries’s performance in the derby could go either way.
“It depends on his psychological state. Due to the mistakes being fresh in his mind and going to an even bigger game, this could affect him a lot and lead him to more mistakes. But, on the other hand, he could be motivated to pull a great performance,” says Arendse.
Indeed, in the games between the disastrous matches, Vries put in some great performances and reclaimed some of the confidence of the unforgiving Chiefs fans. In the 2-0 win against Bidvest Wits on January 9, the 27-year-old denied the home side several scoring opportunities with superb saves.
In fact, this game convinced Chiefs’ loyalists to give Vries the benefit of the doubt, only for him to reignite their anger in the Zesco and City games.
Former Pirates and DR Congo’s number one goalkeeper Francis Chansa has advised Vries to “get over his nerves” if he wants to perform solidly in the derby.
“He has to put his foot firmly on the ground. I was with him at Maritzburg and I know he’s quality. But playing for Chiefs or Pirates is no child’s play. I played in the derby on many occasions. There’s too much pressure but he must be strong. I think this derby will be his final test,” Chansa says.
He is also banking on the relationship between Vries and coach Ernst Middendorp, which dates back to their days at Maritzburg, for the German coach to stand by Vries.
“They worked together at Maritzburg and I was also there as back-up. Ernst knows Vries well but, then again, Vries has the responsibility to prove himself,” Chansa says.
Pirates and Chiefs are third and sixth on the log table respectively, and a win for Chiefs could pull them up to the fourth spot with 30 points.
But, more than anything, it will be about bragging rights, and Vries is sure to play a crucial role in who gets to enjoy the spoils.
This article has been amended to reflect that, following Wednesday night’s game, the Pirates are ranked third on the log table.