Orlando Pirates head coach, Josef Zinnbauer, seems to have taken to his job like a duck to water, if the team’s current form is anything to go by. To think that the 49-year-old is yet to taste an Absa Premiership defeat since taking charge in December is phenomenal, especially for someone who found himself in an unfamiliar territory almost halfway through the season.
There was a lot he had to get used to – his new surroundings, players, technical team, management, supporters, the League and everything that has to do with the Beautiful Game – while he also had a lot of catching up to do on his coaching front. He had to get his philosophy across while learning about his players’ weaknesses and strengths and finding a way to implement his methods without weakening the team.
As things stand, the German-mentor has managed to put fire under the sleeping Soweto giant, resulting in a number of firsts for the club. At first, his appointment looked more like glossing over the obvious cracks that were so evident, than anything else. It didn’t look wise to throw someone who had no Absa Premiership background into the deep end. Bucs looked like a team with no direction and for an unknown foreigner to be entrusted with such a big job didn’t inspire confidence, at least for this season, at all. How wrong that assumption was, as things stand!
The team looked so out of sorts for the better part of the first round of the new campaign, what with coach Milutin Sredojevic tendering his unexpected resignation on the 11th hour, with Rhulani Mokwena taking over the reins until December when another coach was introduced to the team. This is the first time this season that the Buccaneers have gone seven games without a loss, winning six of the seven outings Zinnbauer has been in charge of. They’re yet to taste defeat, having drawn against Bloemfontein Celtic, which was the only game they dropped points from.
Under Zinnbauer, Pirates’ 2019/20 Absa Premiership Footballer of the Season, Thembinkosi Lorch, finally opened his goal account against Highlands Park. The talented attacker has been a shadow of himself this campaign, something that can easily be attributed to the failed overseas move that he so badly wanted. It has been under Zinnbauer that Lorch seems to have finally found his footing and possibly made peace with the failed move. He seems to have his head in the right place.
Other than sitting second on the log standings, after the first round of fixtures – having defeated Bloemfontein Celtic in their opening match at Orlando Stadium, under Sredojevic – this is the first time that Pirates find themselves in third spot on the log standings. It is also the first time that they join Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns, in the top three, the two teams that have been consistently in the top three bracket for the better part of the season.
It is also for the first time this campaign that Pirates look like a team with a, albeit an outside, chance of winning the league title, as a dark horse in the final stretch of the season, especially considering the fact that they still have to play all of the other four teams they’re within the top five. For the first time – in years – Orlando Pirates have a genuine contender for the Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot Award in Gabadinho Mhango who has found the net 14 times in the league already. This is big even by the League’s standards as we’ve been, until last season, hit by a serious goal drought that saw our front men fail to go past 15 goals in recent seasons. Only last season did Black Leopards’ Mwape Musonda score 16 league goals, which was the highest number since 2011/12.
For the first time, the Big Three occupy the first three positions on the log standings, exactly the way it is always expected to be. These are three teams that are always expected to have a serious go at league honours and for the past six seasons, that’s a responsibility that has mostly been on Sundowns’ shoulders. They’ve been consistently finishing in the top two ever since coach Pitso Mosimane’s first full season at the helm. When the Big Three compete, it is good for South African football as they are the custodians of our football. With all the resources and fan base, these three teams are always expected to sweep clean and dominate each and every opposition, but the resurrection of the likes of SuperSport United, Bidvest Wits and Cape Town City has put a spanner in the works.
Now it looks like Zinnbauer has reignited the Bucs ship and there’s a sudden spring in the players’ step, with a lot of confidence that was sorely lacking from a team that has been through so much. They lost or drew games that they should have easily won and that’s sometimes due to a mental block more than anything else. Now the team looks rejuvenated and it looks like Zinnbauer’s effect is in full force. Only time will tell how long the ongoing honeymoon phase will last for the German. Will he be able to push both Sundowns and Chiefs for the honours?