Micho Must Deliver!
Orlando Pirates coach, Milutin Sredojevic, has done a tremendous job of steadying the Bucs ship since taking over from now forgotten-about Kjell Jonevret, who left the Buccaneers languishing on a PSL era record of 11th position on the log at the end of the 2016/17 season.
Pirates only managed six wins, 15 draws and nine losses, scoring just 29 times and conceding 40 goals in 30 league matches, with an unimpressive return of 33 points that season. They finished below now relegated, and renamed, Platinum Stars (37) and Ajax Cape Town (36) in what was the first time the Houghton-based club finished outside of the Top Eight bracket since 1996. A bad record for the Swedish mentor, in his six-month long tenure from February 20 to August 2, 2017. It must be pointed out, though, that Kjell only took charge of the team on their 18th league game on the back of Muhsin Ertugral getting a 6-1 hammering from SuperSport United at Mbombela Stadium and ultimately ‘handing’ in his resignation live on television after the game, followed by the ill-fated 6-0 drubbing away to Mamelodi Sundowns at Loftus Stadium, with caretaker coach, Augusto Palacios, in charge of the Bucs ship. Those are two results Bucs will never forget – in fact, it is the results the opposition supporters will ensure continue to ring in the ears of the Bucs family.
In came Micho, who was no stranger to the Ghost family having coached Ezimnyama Ngenkani from June 2006 – January 2007, with a lot of hope and promises. One of the main promises from the Pirates ‘prodigal son’ was to “heal the souls” of the Buccaneers faithful after a disastrous period of not only keeping their trophy cabinet empty but playing pathetic football that was sore to the eye. The team had become a laughing stock with their supporters having lost their voice. They had become an ordinary team, with no structure, lack of discipline on and off the field, cliques were prevailing with no unity or team spirit at all. Playing for Bucs seemed to mean nothing at all other than withdrawing a salary at the end of the month to those who donned the jersey. It didn’t take long for Micho to hit the ground running, playing attractive football and restoring the club’s pride. The 49-year-old Serbian mentor instilled discipline and ensured that his players understood that no one was bigger than the club. He got them to play for the club’s badge, show respect to the club’s history, the supporters and the institution that is Orlando Pirates. He did the unthinkable when he pushed star-studded Mamelodi Sundowns to the title race, losing with just five points to the Chloorkop-based side lead by his good friend, Pitso Mosimane. From a disastrous 2016/17 season to finishing second the following season was an achievement, by any standards, and Micho looked to have ticked almost all the boxes.
2018/19 was the season of deliverance for the Buccaneers, with Micho looking to “feed the souls” of the Bucs faithful. The club’s supporters’ attendance figures increased, especially in their home games at Orlando Stadium – one of the venues that had become a sad reminder of what South African football had become – with teams playing in front of empty seats. There was suddenly a lot of positive energy and optimism from the Bucs faithful. It was like a new sheriff was in town. However, just like those before him, Micho has – so far – had very little to show for it, despite all the obvious improvements in the team. They continue to play good, attractive football that has seen every Bucs supporter brimming with confidence and pride but, still, lacking where it matters the most. The Telkom Knockout final loss to unfancied Baroka FC in Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium still haunts Micho’s charges and it will be one of the missed opportunities they will lament, should the season end the way it started – empty – for them. The time to romanticise the coach’s performance is now over and the supporters are surely going to start getting tired of the ‘almost’ achievements and ‘what-ifs’.
Unfortunately, Micho’s post-match interviews have become predictable and boring. He’s becoming more philosophical, with excuses-laden comments that are tiring as he’s starting to sound like a stuck record. The same reasons they didn’t win one game are the same reasons they’re not winning the next one, which makes you wonder what happens in-between the two games. I can hear you questioning the role of the finishing coach (Stephane Adam) who was roped in at the beginning of the season and happens to be the only such member of a technical team in the Absa Premiership. While Pirates were ahead of everyone’s time with that appointment and deserve all the credit, it would be naïve for anyone to expect instant results from Adam. Why? Simply because he’s working with full-time professional footballers, some of whom have been in this game for over a decade. How do you teach an old player new tricks? The first team level is about fine-tuning what is already working, not teaching new techniques because you can’t ‘un-coach’ some of the traits these players have adopted over the years. It will only be in the next generation of Bucs attackers that Adam’s influence will be seen.
With the league championship up for grabs, without anyone grabbing the bull by the horn as yet, should Micho fail to arrest the championship, you can expect the fit to hit the shan! It would be sad to see Micho subjected to what some of his predecessors have experienced, but he hasn’t covered himself and his technical team in any sort of glory so far. Football is a game of results. It is, therefore, a cruel game. Every coach will be judged by the silverware he brings to the trophy cabinet. The time for Micho to deliver is now, otherwise all the good work he’s done so far will be down the drain if he continues to sing the same song of missed chances, failing to bury the game and not being able to manage the game. His team is definitely one of the most exciting to watch, but if that was enough to secure a coach’s job, Free State Stars wouldn’t be where they are at the moment, fighting relegation as they dominate almost every team they face. Black Leopards would be among the chasing pack for the league honours if good and attractive football was enough. The Champions League gives Micho another chance at silverware, but his domestic league problems and challenges seem to be following him everywhere he goes. Here’s to wishing Micho and his charges all the best in their must-win encounter against Horoya this Saturday.