JOHANNESBURG – Orlando Pirates legend of more than two decades, Augusto Palacios credits a change in the players’ attitude for the club’s quick turnaround from recording their worst finish in the PSL-era last season to fighting for the championship a season later.
The Peruvian, who is the Buccaneers’ Technical Director of Youth, managed the first team in the interim in last season’s disastrous campaign that saw Muhsin Ertugral resign on television. Palacios was in charge for the most part of that campaign, until violent fans forced the club’s management to appoint a permanent coach following their 6-0 thumping by Mamelodi Sundowns. While at the helm, Palacios criticised the players’ attitude and went as far as promising to administer a stricter regime.
“I want to say what I said in my last game (in charge of the first team), if the players have commitment, character and they fight for the brand - you can win any trophy and the league,” Palacios said in Illovo yesterday. He was speaking at the announcement of Pirates’ partnership with Shield and Chelsea to unearth new talent which will see one lucky player not only train with Chelsea but also sign a one-year contract with the Buccaneers’ reserve team.
“You must play for the brand and be committed to the game on and off the field. You can’t only be a professional on the field. Check the PSL right now, how many superstars don’t make the starting XI of their teams? It’s a lot.
It’s no longer about names but about the players who are committed to the course. It’s the truth. That’s why Maritzburg United and Free State Stars are among the clubs at the top of the log. It’s no longer about names and superstars. Players need to understand that you must be professional on and off the field. Football has changed.”
The Buccaneers are just one point behind Sundowns in the Absa Premiership even though the Brazilians have a game in hand. Pirates have downplayed their chances of fighting with Sundowns for the championship with less than 10 games to go in an act of mind games. Palacios isn’t playing any mind games though.
“Pirates can win the championship, why not? Anything can happen. There is more pressure on the team at the top because those who are behind are doing everything they can to catch up with them. For me the league hasn’t been decided yet.”
What has impressed the Ghost the most this season is Pirates’ character, fighting until the end and playing an enterprising brand of football.
“What I like is the commitment of the players,” Palacios said. “Remember the old Pirates, when they were trailing or things were level around the 80th minute - you knew that they would come back to get something out of that match by either stealing a point or winning. This spirit is back now. Why? Because of the commitment of the players.
“Before it wasn’t there and that was my criticism. That your private life (was messing with the players’ performance on the field). If you are professional on and off the field and are committed, you can win anything. Things are changing. I am happy that there is a high level of competition for places. I don’t want to mention names but there are some payers who aren’t playing at Pirates now (but used to command a regular starting berth). I have been here for 23 years, no-one can tell me what Pirates is about. I know. To win the treble wasn’t through luck. Players like Benni (McCarthy) were committed to the cause.”