Kaizer Chiefs were heavily criticised as soon as it became clear that they were interested in signing Teenage Hadebe towards the end of the last season simply because the majority of their foreign players had underperformed since the departure of Knowledge Musona to Belgium three years ago.
Amakhosi are renowned for their ability to produce talented players from their youth structures, and everyone is raving about how well Steve Komphela has managed to give some of the players, including Wiseman Meyiwa and Siyabonga Ngezana among others.
In Hadebe, they appear to have found someone in the calibre of Patrick Mabedi – he’s dedicated, reads the game well and makes crucial tackles that often help the team win games, but his contribution over the past few months hasn’t been recognised.
Chiefs gave away goals cheaply last season and that drew matches unnecessarily because they couldn’t score enough goals, but on top of that, they dropped too many points from winning positions because of their leaky defence.
While Itumeleng Khune has been a rock to the Chiefs defence over the years, the truth is that he cannot always single-handedly save them from losing matches or dropping points.
Khune needs a solid back four in front him to shine. The last time Chiefs looked this good defensively was when Tefu Mashamaite played alongside Erick Mathoho in the heart of defence.
Since Mashamaite’s departure, Steve Komphela struggled to find the right combinations at centre-back positions, but with Hadebe now settled, it looks like they have finally found the perfect replacement for their former skipper.
The majority of fans expected Hadebe to take a few seasons to acclimatize, because starting a career at a different country could be challenging for any footballer.
However, he has taken like a duck to water with some impressive performances in the 11 matches that he has featured in so far this season.
Looking at the stats, in those matches, Chiefs have kept a whopping eight clean sheets, and conceded just four goals. This highlights the importance of the man to a team that is under pressure to deliver silverware this season.
At 22, Hadebe was tipped to play second fiddle to both Mathoho and Lorenzo Gordinho, while he wasn’t expected to overtake Daniel Cardoso as the club’s most reliable centre-back.
The promotion of Ngezana came at a time when everyone was thinking Hadebe would not stand a chance after recovering from his long-term injury which saw him miss the start of the season.
Hadebe may never be considered the best player in the current Chiefs squad, with the spotlight still on the likes of Khune and Ryan Moon among others, but his importance to a Komphela side that is five points behind log leaders Mamelodi Sundowns with nine league games to go, should be applauded.
In his first match against AmaZulu where Chiefs secured a point away from home, Hadebe's biggest contribution was clearing the ball off the line with Khune in no man’s land.
He did it again against Cape Town City just less than a week ago, when Sibusiso Masina thought he had beaten Khune, only for the Zimbabwe international to provide cover and clear the ball before it crossed the line, ensuring that Chiefs march on and keep their PSL title dreams alive.
At any given day, those attempts would have ended up in the back of the net, and would have resulted in Chiefs dropping points.