JOHANNESBURG – Is it that hard for Orlando Pirates to kick the trio of Thabo Matlaba, Mpho Makola and Thamsanqa Gabuza to the curb? It would appear so, otherwise how do you explain them still being influential when, by several accounts, they are way past their sell-by dates?
A lot is at stake for coach Micho Sredojevic this season and he would get half the job done if he started to phase these three players out.
It’s the same issue their Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs have had with veterans Siphiwe Tshabalala and Bernard Parker - their 2010 World Cup stars.
But unlike Amakhosi, the Buccaneers actually have fresh faces to be able to move on without Matlaba, Makola and Gabuza.
This was crystal clear last season when Matlaba was completely out of the picture in the second half of the campaign, a period in which Pirates clicked and found their form to give eventual champions Mamelodi Sundowns a run for their money in the league race.
Both Makola and Gabuza were used sparingly during that time, too.
It was by design, the coach looking elsewhere for match winners other than the usual suspects.
Imagine the surprise when all three returned to the starting line-up this past weekend away at high-riding Bloemfontein Celtic, where the Buccaneers suffered a third successive loss in all competitions.
Matlaba’s recall was even more of a shocker.
Just earlier this month he was announced as a Chippa United player in a season-long loan deal, but he apparently wasn’t willing to relocate to Port Elizabeth. It must have been the wind there.
That’s a clear indication that the 30-year-old was surplus to requirements and was being shipped elsewhere for game time, which he turned down.
Makola and Gabuza are perhaps more squad players than anything now.
With Ben Motshwari, Musa Nyatama, Xola Mlambo, Abbubaker Mobara, Abel Mabaso, Paseka Mako, Vincent Pule and Kudakwashe Mahachi all in competition with each other for roles either in midfield or on the flanks, it is easy to see why Makola will struggle to get a look-in.
Gabuza has to compete with Augustine Mulenga and his Zambian compatriot Justin Shonga in his attempt to spend less time kicking his heels on the bench.
The way for Pirates to become genuine title contenders is really just to go back to the basics, and by that I mean find the form - and winning combination - that turned them into such a force in the second half of the previous season.
Makola and Gabuza featured very little then and Matlaba was almost a forgotten man.
Sredojevic, and coaches in general, often risk falling into this trap of looking to the old guard when results aren’t forthcoming.
He’s got just a few days to go back to the drawing board (excuse the cliché) to try and iron out the kinks before Pirates travel to Black Leopards next week - unless there’s meddling.