Johannesburg – In his five months since taking over at the helm, Orlando Pirates coach Vladimir Vermezovic has already left his imprint, invigorating a side he found in a desolate state.
The Serbian-born mentor has a perfect two-out-of-two record in cup competitions with the Soweto giants, having steered them to victory in the Nedbank Cup at the end of the season and more recently in the Carling Black Label Cup, beating bitter rivals Kaizer Chiefs.
“I have a group of players who finished the season on a high and I hope that they can continue in the upcoming season,” Vermezovic said.
After his appointment earlier in the year, he took charge of a Pirates team which had reached three major cup finals in their previous season and were losers in all. The dejected and listless bunch of players had come off second best in the MTN8, Telkom Knockout and Caf Champions League.
A few months later, the rejuvenated Pirates are set to open their Premiership campaign with a mouth-watering Soweto derby against Moroka Swallows at the Orlando Stadium on Saturday.
“I have said before that I am very pleased with how the players have performed in the pre-season camp. I am very happy because we didn't have any serious injuries.
“The players are ready – it is a good squad and the players have played together.”
Earlier in the transfer window, Vermezovic had indicated his desire to rope in a few new faces to give some competition to his squad.
So far, the Buccaneers have made two major acquisitions in the form of midfielders Thabo Qalinge, from Mpumalanga Black Aces, and Issa Sarr from Platinum Stars.
In contrast to the way their hosts fared over the last couple of months, opponents Swallows had a sustained period draped in misfortune.
The sleeping Soweto juggernauts just scrapped through last season's Premiership, managing to finish in position 13 and only three points adrift of the relegation zone. And, during the pre-season, Swallows were hammered 5-0 by defending league champions Mamelodi Sundowns in the Gauteng Football Cup in Atteridgeville.
The demolition left coach Zeca Marques searching for answers, and with a pile of work to do before the start of the season.
“I think I'm happy that we got exposed, because it is the wake-up call,” Marques said.
“For our new players, it's a baptism of fire and a wake-up call to South African football. We can work and reflect on what went wrong.”
The Dube Birds have signed an unknown trio of European players in Obren Cuckovic, Vladimir Mandic and Boris Savic.
University of Pretoria v Polokwane City (3pm) (Tuks Stadium, Pretoria)
Free State Stars v Kaizer Chiefs (3pm) (Charles Mopeli Stadium, Phuthaditjhaba)
Chippa United v Platinum Stars (6pm) (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Orlando Pirates v Moroka Swallows (8.15pm) (Orlando Stadium, Soweto)
SuperSport United v Bidvest Wits (8.15pm) (Lucas Moripe Stadium, Pretoria)
AmaZulu v Ajax Cape Town (3pm) (Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban)
Bloemfontein Celtic v Mpumalanga Black Aces (3pm) (Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein) – Sapa