Ekstein is in the final few months of his contract at Naturena and is understood to have turned down an initial renewal offer from Chiefs management, who have yet to present an improved deal.
The 28-year-old has endured a stuttering few seasons at the club, falling in and out of favour under the various coaches he has worked under over the past four years, while also taking plenty of flak for his inconsistency and often times ineffectiveness.
But he has since found himself in the form of his life since Middendorp’s arrival, having thus far tallied his best return of five goals in a single season, including one in an impressive 2-0 victory over Cape Town City at the weekend.
The German has now explained his rise was in fact by accident, after he too initially thought lowly of the Amakhosi youth graduate.
“Yeah, he started not on December 9, when I started, but on December 22. I’m honest, when I saw him in the past, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what the hell is this player doing, kicking around and whatever,’” explained Middendorp.
“And when I came, I had the same impression on the field – December 9, I thought, ‘Jesus!’ But by accident he came in in the second half [against Mamelodi Sundowns in January] just because Philani Zulu was knocked out.
“And that was a chance for him, which he took and showed something that made me think, ‘Hmmm, okay, that’s something that I can fine-tune and look forward to getting him in these creative moments.’
“The best games in my opinion, he had together with Lebogang Manyama – they had a good understanding, working out of the half-spaces, changing the half-space, and, and, and...
“Good but, when he played, he had one or two games, mainly in the starting line-up but was still a little confusing in terms of where he’s going.”
Earlier this year, Middendorp also surprisingly labelled Ekstein “the best player he has worked with”, and has since warned the diminutive attacker against the danger of seeking a move away amid his current role in the team.
“But If I were him, having started at [age] 24 and at 28 there’s for the first time in his life somebody on the technical team side who believes in his quality – he will probably have another five years to go, the idea to change and go somewhere else would be my last thought,” he advised.
“I would really do everything, but okay, players have consultants with their agency and their uncles, and sometimes think to have R10 extra per month makes a big difference, but anyway.
“He should probably follow other examples who changed, went to other clubs and thought the grass on the other side is greener, and all of a sudden after two months they scratch their heads and call to ask, ‘Can I come back?’
“It’s reality, it’s here. And I can only give him the advice to stay, and I hope he’ll stay and finds a solution [with management]. He’s definitely a player with high quality, one of the best I’ve worked with – I said it months ago, and not only today.”