When Orlando Pirates were going through a lean spell that lasted almost a decade, Augusto Palacios constantly found his name featuring in discussions about what was wrong at the club.
Accusations flew, with some claiming he was the source of discontent in the dressing room as he had direct influence on the players who had worked under him in the development structures.
Admittedly without a shred of evidence being produced, it was alleged Palacios would push for his development products to be in the first team. When they were not, his accusers claimed, he would work to undermine the incumbent coach, using these very players who clearly held him in high regard.
Palacios, of course, laughed off such claims as baseless, but he didn’t help to entirely dispel them by frequently commenting on first-team matters. From time to time he would be afforded space on the Pirates website to opine about what he thought was wrong and offer his own solutions.
Correctly, he would moan about Pirates coaches not setting a foot in the club’s Mayfair base, where his protégés train. He would also seek to counsel the coaches on how to handle players.
For instance, in August 2010, Palacios wrote: “Another problem that I often see harming our football is that when a new coach arrives in a team, he drops a player that was actually doing well before his arrival, and that is wrong. We also see coaches failing to explain to players why they were dropped after playing well (in the previous game).” Almost all his columns were signed off “Professor Augusto Palacios”, with only a few identifying him as Pirates’ “Technical Director”.
It is against this background that I believe Pirates’ decision to elevate Palacios to head coach for the new season should be welcomed. For a long time he has yearned to occupy this position and following Bucs’ championship triumph, it was always going to be difficult to keep Palacios locked out of the first team.
Senior players had already campaigned for his retainment, saying he had rescued a ship that was sinking when he came in to replace Julio Leal in March. I have no doubt that the Pirates board also realised banishing Palacios back to the development structures, when players spoke so highly of him, would have had dire consequences for any new coach.
A new man would have had to live in Palacios’s shadow with the constant reminder that he had replaced someone who had won the league. The situation would not be the same with that of Leal and Ruud Krol. Krol left Pirates; Palacios would still be at Pirates even if he was not head coach.
He thus deserves this chance to prove himself. After all, the recent league triumph was as much Leal’s as it was Palacios’s. Brazilian Leal took charge of 18 league games; Palacios had only 12 and, although he lost just one game, that’s no adequate basis for any coach to walk around calling himself a league champion.
Taking over at the beginning of the season should afford Palacios a chance to show he’s not all talk. He has been at the club for 17 years and understands its culture. Now it is his opportunity to live up to his preferred moniker of ‘Professor’.
Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng