JOHANNESBURG - The weight of expectation that hangs over every Soweto Derby is tenfold this time around with Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs part of the chasing pack in the league race, which makes players such as Happy Jele important figures.
The 31-year-old is the Buccaneers’ longest serving player in the current squad, having made his debut in 2006. He has been involved in a number of matches of this magnitude as part of the Pirates’ team that won back-to-back domestic trebles and reached the finals of the 2013 CAF champions League and 2015 CAF Confederation Cup.
“Obviously there is pressure to win this match,” Jele said. “But we need to be calm, especially around the new guys so that they can play their best football. Come match-day some of the new guys will be scared when they step onto the pitch and see so many people.
"Our job as senior players is to ensure that they are ready. This match can build you or break you. But we need matches of this nature because they build character so that when you represent your country nothing can faze you because you are prepared mentally.”
Jele has been sharing his derby experiences with Jackson Mabokgwane, Justin Shonga and Marshal Munetsi, who are likely to feature in the Soweto Derby for the first time on Saturday at FNB Stadium. While the trio is in search of their first derby appearance, coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic is looking for his first win.
Jele will give his all to give Sredojevic that win because of their strong relationship and the fact that a win would see Pirates retain their second spot to put pressure on pacesetters Mamelodi Sundowns, who take on AmaZulu on Friday night.
“I was excited and happy to see the coach coming back because he gave me a chance in 2006,” Jele said. “At least I understand him more than any other coach because we have worked together, he knows what I can do and I know what he expects from me. I am trying to please him each and every day, play for Pirates and repay the faith he showed in me.”
Jele continued, “It’s good being the club’s longest-serving player but it comes with a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility. I try by all means to help the new guys settle into the team by telling them how important Orlando Pirates is and what’s needed to succeed here. It’s a big role for me to play and I try to do my best to ensure that everyone feels at home.”
The Buccaneers have been consistently downplaying their league ambitions even though they sit in second place, four points behind Sundowns with eight matches to go. The truth is that those aren’t mind games but a proper analysis of the Buccaneers.
In an ordinary season, not marred by inconsistency, the Buccaneers wouldn’t be in second place as they aren’t the second best team in the country. They are a work in progress. What should scare their opponents is that if they can be in second place a couple of months into the new era, imagine what they can do at their best.
“Last season was bad, especially for me who came when Pirates were winning things,” Jele said. “Last season was the worst season I have been involved in. We are trying by all means to do well this season, get into the right position that Orlando Pirates deserves to be in. We didn’t expect that things would go well for us so quickly.”