“We are telling the players to not feel any pressure,” Sredojevic said. “They must just go and express themselves, let the pressure come to us (the technical team) so that their legs are not locked and they play their football in the best possible way. We want them to play with freedom.”
That freedom has transformed the Buccaneers from a timid and misfiring team to a confident unit that fights until the end, spurred on by a devastating attack that scored 13 goals in their last five league matches.
Those five matches ended with Pirates getting maximum points. This good run makes it hard for the Sea Robbers to keep playing mind games that they aren’t Sundowns’ biggest challengers in the league with just one point separating the two teams even though the Buccaneers have played one more match.
“Before thinking about (challenging) Sundowns we have to think about how to improve our football. This is the only thing that we are focusing on at present,” says Sredojevic. “We know that things aren’t in our hands. What’s in our hands is approaching the five remaining matches like they are cup finals. We will then see what football will bring us at the end. What I am happy about at the moment is that we are in a position to qualify to play in Africa next year. So many people across the continent miss Pirates. We will do everything possible in the remaining five matches to achieve that. We have last year’s Caf Confederation Cup finalists (SuperSport United) ahead of us (on Wednesday at Mbombela Stadium). It’s a top test for us and that’s the only thing we are focusing on.”
The Buccaneers will go into that match extra confident after their clean sweep in the Absa Premiership monthly awards. Sredojevic and Musa Nyatama walked away with the Coach and Player of the Month awards for March while Justin Shonga bagged the Goal of the Month accolade for February.
This was the second time this season the Serbian received this monthly award. But individual awards aren’t what he is after; he wants to take Pirates to the top and win the Caf Champions League – something he came close to doing in 2006.
“The first time I came here, I was much younger and I was what you can call a junior coach in African football,” Sredojevic said. “But I am proud of what we achieved in that short spell. I reached the semi-finals of the 2006 Champions League. I left a certain stamp (at Pirates). I remember giving Senzo Meyiwa and Happy Jele their debuts. I have good memories of that spell. I then went for what I will call football study on the African continent after leaving Pirates. I spent six years in international football (with Rwanda and Uganda) and all-in-all I reached the semi-finals of the Champions League three times. This challenge (of returning Pirates to where they belong), I accepted because of the pain I felt as a Pirates’ fan last season. I was supposed to come here after the Africa Cup of Nations but I couldn’t (due to contractual obligations). The opportunity came again and I grabbed it. But everything that we have done so far wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for our top class players, my colleagues in the technical team, management, support staff and our fans who drive us with their love and demands.”
Pirates’ chairman Irvin Khoza jokes that Sredojevic arrived at Pirates in 2006 with a small suitcase as he was still making a name for himself and returned for his second spell with a “Gucci” suitcase now that he is a big brand.
“I had a chance to go to the World Cup with Uganda and I would have gone there,” Sredojevic said. “In football you can’t be arrogant but everyone in Uganda is of the opinion that if I was still there we would have qualified (ahead of Egypt, Ghana and Congo). I chose to come to Pirates instead. In 25 years as a coach, I have never had this amount of freedom and support. It is something that makes me satisfied but it’s not all about me. I want to be one puzzle in an important mosaic of moving Orlando Pirates to where they belong and write history in the best possible way. We have brought stability at Pirates. We are supposed to stay here (in second place) and go much higher. Below, never!”