Happy Jele is still enjoying playing at Orlando Pirates. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
Happy Jele has been at Orlando Pirates so long that some of his team-mates weren’t even at school when he was handed his debut 12 years ago, but he doesn’t like being called “Grootman” (Big Man).

Lyle Foster was just four years old when Micho Sredojevic, in his first stint, gave Jele his first team debut at Pirates in 2006.

Since then, Jele has gone from an upstart to a leader, a multiple-cup winner and finalist of the Caf Champions League and Caf Confederation Cup.

The 31-year-old was just starting out when Sredojevic led the Buccaneers to the semifinals of the 2006 Champions League.

“I have spent a long time here but don’t call me that (Grootman),” Jele said.

“The coach (Sredojevic) went and came back and he found me still here. There’s a lot that’s different with him. They say with more years, the more you grow as a person. He has grown in football. There are a lot of things he is teaching us. He and Rhulani (Mokwena) have been doing great things for the team.”

The Serbian coach masterminded the Buccaneers’ turnaround from chumps to potential champions.

Pirates started slow last season but once the players understood what Sredojevic wanted from them they fired from all cylinders and challenged Mamelodi Sundowns for the Premiership.

Pirates eventually finished five points behind Sundowns to claim second place and return to the Champions League for the first time since losing the final in 2013.

Happy Jele is enjoys to help out his younger team mates as he is seen as the stalwart in the tea. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Jele and Sredojevic have unfinished business with Pirates in that tournament. The Serbian could only take the Soweto giants to the semi-finals, while Jele was in the stands when they lost to Al-Ahly in the final.

“It was sad because I wanted to play in that final that day but I couldn’t because of suspension,” Jele said.

“I wished I could help the team. I think that the guys did their best that day and they were just unlucky not to win the trophy.

“We are going there and we have to fight again. Orlando Pirates is a big team and deserve to be in the Champions League. We have to keep on going and try to be in the final again. Reaching the Champions League final was the highlight of my career, so did winning those back-to-back trebles.”

Jele has lifted just one trophy since those trebles in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons. That’s the 2014 Nedbank Cup under Vladimir Vermezovic.

There is a big drive to end that long wait for silverware by building on last season’s bright showing.

The lad from Middelburg would love to end the drought in the upcoming season so as to repay the faith the club has shown in him. Last week he received the chairman’s award from Irvin Khoza at the club’s prize-giving ceremony.

Khoza praised Jele’s longevity at Pirates and his leadership qualities that see him wear the armband.

“I am honoured to be playing for such a team this long. I am blessed. I don’t have a lot of words for it,” Jele said.

“To play for a big team in South Africa for 12 years is big. I haven’t even thought of retiring. I just want to continue repaying this team for all they have done for me.

“They’ve been there for me through all my hard times. They have helped me a lot so they deserve to get more trophies through my effort.”


Sunday Independent

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