Castro’s rebirth at Chiefs: From transfer list to core player

In the first half of last season, Leonardo Castro was relatively good as he initially linked up impressively with Khama Billiat. The duo knew each other well from Mamelodi Sundowns and with Giovanni Solinas making them the front pair, both players looked good.

Injuries and Middendorp

Injuries and a loss of top condition saw Castro’s form dip towards the end of the Italian’s time at the club, and his performances under Ernst Middendorp was not very good. He netted against Bidvest Wits in January, but from then until May, he netted only one more goal.

Perhaps most indicative of him falling out of favour under the German coach was that Castro played only one minute in the Nedbank Cup final against TS Galaxy. He was brought on after Amakhosi conceded in the last minute to lose the match as a Hail Mary of sorts.

Turnaround at Naturena

Few could have foreseen his turnaround at Naturena. After very good training and friendly performance on the eve of the campaign, Middendorp decided to keep the player. Chiefs had signed Samir Nurkovic and Lazarous Kambole, but the Colombian has responded well to the extra competition and was taken off the transfer list.

Add the time, the coach said: “Castro has had a good pre-season so far and nothing is going on. There is a lot of talk on the outside. I am very happy with Castro and how he took this pre-season.”

Looking ‘like a Plan B’

However, his early season performances left something to be desired.

He started against Black Leopards but had very little effect on the game and was taken off at half-time. In the next three league games, he was an unused substitute. At that stage, he was looking like a Plan B.

Against AmaZulu though, Nurkovic had to go off with a head injury and Castro stepped into the action, scoring the crucial opening goal in the 84th minute. He scored in both games against Orlando Pirates in November and is currently on a run of six goals in six PSL matches, including a brace against Bloemfontein Celtic, a brace against Highlands Park in midweek and a first-half header against Cape Town City on Sunday.

Extremely dangerous pairing’

Alongside Nurkovic, he has formed an extremely dangerous pairing in the air as Chiefs’ direct game proves too much for most opponents to deal with, and a further sign of his increasing importance was Middendorp’s comments after that Highlands Park win:

“We have a core team if look at it this way – with Mathoho and Cardoso at the back, Maluleka and Katsande in the midfield, Castro and Nurkovic upfront.”

He is no longer a player that Chiefs thought they may as well keep for extra depth, but a bona fide starter.

SA residency on horizon

In August, he will be able to apply for South African residency after five years in the country, meaning he will no longer take up a foreigner spot. This solidifies his position at Amakhosi and he will surely extend his contract beyond its current expiry date in June.

The player has also stepped up in terms of integrating himself into the group, with Middendorp claiming he had not heard him speak English until this season and saying he was “he was very introvert, not really inside the team”.

Things have come full circle now, and the Colombian will be a fundamental player if Kaizer Chiefs are to lift the title in May.

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