Johannesburg – A little like a banged-up old car, spluttering along in the face of expected failure, until grinding to an inevitable halt, Orlando Pirates’ title defence packed up for good in Saturday’s late autumn Orlando sunshine.
Roger de Sa and his side had been talking a good game for weeks, as long as Kaizer Chiefs remained within mathematical range, but the fact is that for almost the whole of 2013, Pirates have lost their domestic mojo.
Africa has been De Sa’s closest ally, Pirates’ extraordinary Champions League progress adding some gloss to a silverware-free campaign. And the Pirates coach has a friend, too, it seems, in Sundowns mentor Pitso Mosimane.
Mosimane’s Brazilians put the final nail in the Pirates coffin, defender Alje Schut’s late header propelling the men in yellow, who have had a tumultuous season themselves, into the top eight.
Perhaps this meant Mosimane could afford to be gregarious afterwards, but he was full of praise, either way, for De Sa’s continental achievement, Pirates taking down the might of TP Mazembe over two legs to make the group stages.
“I want to say something on the Champions League,” piped up Mosimane, unprovoked.
“In my opinion Roger won one of the most important games for Pirates this year. Maybe I look at it differently, but that game in Mazembe was, for me, the most important game to win, and he went through.
“That is why Pirates have a star on their emblem (to denote winning the 1995 Champions League).
“I don’t know if they won today, if they would have won the league. That would depend on Chiefs as well. I just wanted to say well done.
“I think Pirates can help give us an extra position in the Champions League and whoever finishes second can go back in.
“I hope Pirates will go into the Champions League next year, it is important for the Bafana players in this country.”
It remains to be seen if his Champions League achievements are enough to keep De Sa at Pirates next season, the Buccaneers hot-seat almost as fickle as Sundowns’.
“I have a three-year contract and there are two years to go,” was De Sa’s standard take on the matter.
The Pirates coach doesn’t believe that it is Pirates’ African travails that took the puff out of their title challenge. Instead, he again pointed to their lengthy injury list, which has seen stalwarts like Rooi Mahamutsa, Benni McCarthy and Andile Jali out for much of the season.
“It does take its toll, travelling in Africa, and getting six games into the programme, but it’s more about the injuries we picked up, they came before that. The injuries hurt us more than anything else, if we had three or four more players fit … we could possibly have done better. Who knows? The guys who played gave their best and I am grateful for that.”
Long-term fatigue was another interesting point raised by the Pirates coach, with the Buccaneers perhaps victims of their own success in the previous two seasons.
“I only came in six or seven weeks into this season but … there has not been much of a break for Pirates’ players in the last two years, maybe it started to show and fatigue set in, with a lot of regulars picking up injuries. But at the end of the day no one remembers who played, everyone just remembers the result,” he admitted.
As for Sundowns, Mosimane has done fairly well to drag his side out of the relegation zone and into the top eight. For a side with the resources of the Brazilians, however, this has still been a campaign steeped in failure.
“I have only been at Sundowns for four months, and you have to understand it is very difficult,” said Mosimane.
“There are a lot of expectations, it is the same at Pirates, we live on the edge, the only thing that helps us is a win, or you know how our (coaches) lives are – we come and go.
“Sundowns are a strong team. This is a base, a foundation, I want the players to understand the culture, the philosophy, the way I want to play.
“They have started to understand, it is a bit late, but it is a foundation. We have turned it around, the mentality and the tactics. We don’t lose easily, but we don’t win easily. Three (wins) in a row is encouraging, we said we wanted to take four in a row (at the end of the season).
“We got a motivational speaker to help us to do four in a row. (But) it is not all about that – you must have the tactics, the players, the focus and belief. We are building a stage for Sundowns for next season.” – The Star