Johannesburg – Roger de Sa enters yet another cup final knowing that failure for Orlando Pirates on Saturday is not an option, after the club’s hierarchy accepted there’s little he could have done to prevent losses in the previous two championships.
Few would lay blame at the door of any coach who surrenders the African Champions League to Al Ahly, but Saturday’s Telkom Knockout final between Pirates and Platinum Stars (Mbombela Stadium, 8.15pm) is probably a final chance for De Sa to show he can return the club’s glory days of 18 months ago.
When Stars stunned Pirates in the top eight final in September, De Sa could use the excuse that his men were not outplayed, and that they actually showed character to draw level and send the match into extra-time, only to lose on penalties.
This time, he would be expected to have prepared sufficiently to stop Dikwena and bag Pirates’ first trophy since May last year, when they were league champions.
De Sa has never publicly shown signs of fearing he would be sacked, telling us recently that any football coach knows he’s a freelancer, and he was again relaxed as ever in Thursday’s pre-final press conference, reluctant to promise if he would strike it lucky at the third try.
“We have spent this week preparing to win the final. But Platinum Stars have been doing the same. No team prepare to lose,” the Pirates coach said.
That statement is unlikely to fill his detractors with much confidence, not least as De Sa seems convinced he should be lauded for reaching, and losing, the previous two finals.
“To win the final, you have to get there first. We managed to do that on three occasions. Even though we lost two, I’m encouraged by the fact that we played pretty well.
“We were never outplayed, and that says to me we’ve got a great chance (on Saturday). We are now one step away.”
Losing cup finals is, of course, not something new to De Sa, and he pointed out he lost this cup to Pirates in December 2011.
“At that time I was coaching (Bidvest) Wits and we were totally outplayed. But I have to be positive after what I saw in the two finals we lost. We were the better team on both occasions.”
In Mbombela, Pirates will not only have to be the better team, but will also be expected to win, even as De Sa strangely branded Stars with the favourites tag.
“They are favourites given what they did last season. We definitely have to be at our best to beat the (league) runners-up from last season. They are also the only team who’ve won a trophy thus far.”
Pirates’ tumultuous loss to Bloemfontein Celtic in the league last weekend has obviously piled on more pressure on De Sa, and the fact that he’s got almost a full squad should mean he may not have excuses.
Defender Rooi Mahamutsa should return to the starting XI after recovering from an elbow injury, but the biggest boost for Bucs is the availability of star midfielder Oupa Manyisa, whose absence was keenly felt against Celtic last week.
Striker Kermit Erasmus should also play his first game in over three weeks, providing De Sa with a full arsenal as they attempt to stop Stars from monopolising the knockout trophies this season.
Stars coach Allan Freese, meanwhile, appeared perplexed to hear De Sa branded his team favourites. “How can we be favourites when Pirates have such a big fan base?” Freese asked.
In spite of annexing Stars’ first trophy in seven years in September, Freese revealed on Thursday he’s still waiting for a contract. “With regards to me being a caretaker coach, I was called into the office and negotiations are ongoing.”
If a coach who’s actually won something is put through this kind of uncertainty as Freese is, you can imagine how De Sa would feel should he leave the stadium without a trophy for the third time in three months.