Let me start by congratulating Danny Jordaan on winning the Safa elections this past weekend and becoming the new Safa president. We hope he will bring the changes he’s been preaching about in his campaigns.
Moving on, this is a big week for Orlando Pirates, as they look to appease their faithful following the heart-breaking 3-1 defeat on penalties against Platinum Stars in what some thought would be an easy win for Bucs.
The pressure is now back on head coach Roger de Sa after some weeks of him being hero-worshipped by the Buccaneers. His coaching pedigree and man-management skills will, once again, be put under scrutiny as everyone looks back at what should or could’ve been. The bottom line is, the trophy is gone, and there’s an equally important fixture to focus on this Saturday night, as Pirates host Tunisian giants Esperance in the first leg of the CAF Champions League semi-finals.
Not only does De Sa have to rally his troops, motivate and encourage them to switch their focus to this crucial fixture, he’s also faced with the challenge of ensuring that the unity that prevailed in his change room before they hosted Al Ahly in their ultimate group stages and ahead of the second leg MTN8 semi-final against Kaizer Chiefs is restored.
I’m saying this because a lot happened hours before the final that is sure to leave some disgruntled players in De Sa’s team if things remain as they were after the final whistle, and the fact that the starting line-up changed up until the very last few minutes before the game started bears testament to this. A number of well-placed sources within the club confirmed that much, which is sad for a team that was until Saturday looking increasingly likely to make history by qualifying for the semi-finals of the Champions League, the final of the MTN8 and win the trophy, all in the space of six days!
Lucky Lekgwathi only learnt of his exclsion hours before the game, having been told he was rested for the Tuesday afternoon game to give him “enough time to recover from the high intensity game against Ahly two days ago”. This, the 37-year-old was told, was so that he would be fresh to lead the team in the final. I’m told the Bucs captain didn’t take kindly to his omission from the team and made his displeasure known.
According to insiders, it took a phone call from Dr Irvin Khoza to calm things down. This is the same captain who suffered a similar setback in 2010 when Ruud Krol decided to bench him against Kaizer Chiefs in the Telkom Knockout final, so it was a case of history repeating itself for Phinda Mzala. This time round, a disgruntled Lekgwathi was sent to the suites where he watched the game, much to the dismay of the onlookers. To add salt to the wound, that day Lekgwathi missed the funeral of his aunt, who had passed away before the Ahly game, because of the final.
Lekgwathi flatly refused to discuss the issue when I spoke to him, saying, “We have a very important match to focus on this weekend, what happened last weekend is history, my man. It is about the team and not me, so there’s no story there because I have to respect the decisions taken.”
However, he did confirm that had he known he wasn’t even going to make the 18-man squad, he would not have missed his aunt’s funeral. In other words, he sacrificed a family funeral for the cause of the team only to have it thrown back in his face. There’s probably going to be more cup finals for the team to play in, but it’s the only funeral Lucky’s aunt will ever have.
Another headache for De Sa is Lehlogonolo Masalesa’s confidence which has obviously taken a nosedive. The Africa Sport Youth Development Academy product was robbed of a perfect opportunity to run out there in an official final since joining Pirates. He had been on top of his game, winning and protecting possession, and controlling the tempo of the game in the heart of the Bucs midfield. Whoever made these two controversial decisions clearly set the cat among the pigeons in the Bucs camp.
Now Roger and Bucs management face the serious challenge of ensuring that every one of their charges is on the same page, pulling in the same direction, with harmony prevailing ahead of Saturday’s game.
This is a must-win for Pirates if they are to harbour any ambitions of making the final and possibly winning it. Their recent two away losses in this competition couldn’t have emphasised the importance of making the most of your home advantage better. A lot is at stake in this match. As a country, we sincerely hope that Pirates will do us proud, but it starts with Roger and management getting their players’ minds right by making them believe they’re loved, respected and treated equally because Pirates have to beat Esperance at home.
By Vuyani Joni
Follow me on Twitter: @VeeJay14