Johannesburg – Orlando Pirates begin life without Andile “Gattuso” Jali this evening, as the Buccaneers continue their search for a first win of the new year, taking on Ajax Cape Town at Orlando Stadium.
Jali’s transfer to KV Oostende in the Belgian top flight was confirmed on Sunday after days of speculation, with Oostende stating on their official website that the 23-year-old will wear the No15 shirt, just as he did in four and a half seasons with the Buccaneers.
“This will be one of the best players ever in Oostende,” said club chairman Marc Coucke, according to voetbalkrant.com.
“I am incredibly pleased to be here,” added Jali.
“I am here ready to perform.”
Oostende were promoted to the Belgian top flight this season, and are currently 12th in the 16-team table, with 25 points from 23 matches.
Jali’s absence leaves Pirates coach Roger De Sa with a giant midfield void to fill, with the Buccaneers as yet having brought in no one to replace him in this month’s transfer window.
Lehlohonolo Masalesa is set to come in for Jali, the 21-year-old now with a real chance to stake a permanent claim for a place in the Bucs midfield.
With Manti Maholo on loan to Arrows, De Sa is certainly short on central midfield options to play alongside Oupa Manyisa and Thandani Ntshumayelo, outside of “Vieira”.
Pirates have had a difficult start to the year, their attempts to catch up with the league leaders stifled by defeat at home to SuperSport and a draw with AmaZulu in Durban.
“We have played well, we just haven’t won,” said De Sa on Sunday.
“I hope we keep playing the same way, and it will turn if we keep creating lots of chances. If we were not creating and playing badly I would be a lot more worried.”
Pirates’ failure to beat SuperSport or AmaZulu has led to further speculation about De Sa’s position at Pirates, even though he has led them to three cup finals, including the Champions League, this season.
“Getting sacked is part of the job, there is nothing you can do about it (if it happens),” said De Sa. “I am contracted, I am doing my job and that is it. All I can do is get my team to play well.”
Pirates are currently 16 points behind leaders Kaizer Chiefs, with five games in hand, and De Sa believes they are still in the title race.
“Obviously these two games (this year) are not what we wanted, but the performances were not bad,” he said.
“There is still a long way to go; we are only a third of the way through the season. We still have a few games to catch up and if we can get positive results we are in the running.”
Ajax Cape Town have problems of their own, with Muhsin Ertugral resigning during the Christmas break, following a family bereavement.
Ian Taylor has taken over for now, and De Sa still believes, for all their difficulties, that the Urban Warriors will pose a serious threat tonight.
“They (Ajax) are always a difficult team to play,” he said.
“They have kids who are well developed, they have a system, a structure, and that is a massive advantage all the time.
“They are the top team in Cape Town at the moment, and they always raise their game against the big teams.”