Chiefs’ new anchorman Edson Castillo

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  • Post published:September 17, 2023

Venezuelan midfielder Edson Castillo has been an instant hit following his arrival at Kaizer Chiefs, writes Mazola Molefe.

It has usually been Mamelodi Sundowns who go to South America for the player profile they cannot find in the Premier Soccer League or elsewhere on the African continent.

Perennial contenders Kaizer Chiefs have followed suit this season and may have struck gold by signing midfielder Edson Castillo. That is the word in the Naturena camp, at least.

Some will argue the 29-year-old could be a bit of a late bloomer and strays slightly from the idea planted by Amakhosi sporting director Kaizer Motaung Jnr regarding the average age of the squad.

The Chiefs boss, from the start of his tenure in the role announced by the Soweto giants in 2021, has been adamant that younger players are the future of the club, in line with moving away from paying hefty transfer fees for ready-made talent.

Coach Molefi Ntseki, however, believes there was no better candidate than the Venezuelan international in their extensive search for an anchorman.

Chiefs were heavily dependent on Siyethemba Sithebe during the 2022/23 campaign under Arthur Zwane, with young Samkelo Zwane and Yusuf Maart occasionally given the role in what was again a season to forget.

The position was demanding and with the trio all in their first year at Chiefs, they were left exposed at times, with plenty of room for improvement.

“I think it was very important from last season to do a proper squad audit and in doing that, (we determined) we needed somebody who is a six. We needed somebody with a high level of tactical endurance, very intelligent in terms of how he uses the ball and how he conducts himself out of possession,” said Ntseki.

Sithebe’s 28 matches from all competitions are evidence that he was the preferred choice in that holding position, while junior international Zwane featured in half as many after promotion from the reserve league.

Perhaps the 21-year-old will take over in the coming years, but there were times his lack of experience was evident – and of course the natural thing to do for the coach then was to shield him.

Maart was almost ever present, with 38 matches in all competitions, but he was played further forward in the majority of his involvement under coach Zwane – and finishing fifth and extending the trophy drought back in May suggested reinforcements were needed.

In comes Castillo, who was an instant favourite with Chiefs fans during pre- season and the earlier official games. Ntseki was not surprised.

“We have done a lot of scouting and we came across Edson Castillo, who became the player we were looking for, and we brought him in,” explains the man who has been elevated from head of technical to first-team coach.

Whatever information we could find online about the new midfielder from his final months in his native country’s domestic league was very limited – only 16 appearances for Monagas.

If he avoids injury, there is no doubt he will double that tally between the league schedule and cup competitions if Amakhosi go further.

What does stand out is the fact that Castillo has been capped at both junior- and senior level for Venezuela, which lends Chiefs’ signing of the midfielder some credibility.

Although he was confirmed only in July, the Amakhosi mentor revealed the club concluded the deal at the beginning of 2023.

“The signing of Castillo was done in January. You only know about him now, but we have been following him playing in Venezuela,” Ntseki said.

“We were very happy with what we saw and what we see currently. But being a player from outside (a foreign international), he still has to adjust to the demands of our league, and we are looking forward to having a very good season as a team.”

Chiefs goalkeeper Brandon Petersen also recently endorsed Castillo’s arrival at Naturena with a raving review.

“He is quality. I haven’t seen a player like him in a while, his vision and just his understanding,” Petersen told the media. “There is a language barrier, but as soon as you explain something to him with the ball, he gets it like that and does it.

“I think a lot of people had glimpses of him in the two friendlies we played on TV. There is a lot more to expect from him. He’s one of the players who can pick a pass out of nowhere that only he sees. I’m actually excited to be playing with him and just to see him doing things for the team this season.

“Only time will tell. We’ll see in the first few games when he’s in his prime. We’ll see if he was the missing link. I can’t say for sure; let’s hope he’s missing from the puzzle and can fit there.”

Photo by Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix