JOHANNESBURG - Before Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic is Orlando Pirates’ coach, he is a fan of the club who is driven to wash away the tears of last season.
The Buccaneers slumped to their worst performance in the PSL-era in the last campaign, finishing outside the top eight for the first time. Pirates were humbled by SuperSport United and Mamelodi Sundowns, each putting six past them in a single match.
While the Buccaneers were crying tears of sadness, Sredojevic was making Ugandans cry tears of joy as they finally got to hear their national anthem in the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in almost four decades. Sredojevic’s success in the continent after leaving the Sea Robbers a decade ago fuels his belief that he can turn things around at the club. His first priority is improving the players’ mind-set.
“Nobody comes to football with the intention to be a punching bag,” Sredojevic said. “Nobody was expecting this team to finish in 11th place. There is an element of pain inside the players (due to what happened last season) because they are human beings with feelings and emotions.
"They are fully aware that what happened last season is simply unacceptable for a club of Pirates’ magnitude and stature. The first thing we did with the players was to reinforce them mentally, to make them mentally stronger. Once the head is okay, then everything else will take care of itself. The important thing is injecting them with elements of self-belief and self-confidence.”
Chippa United will test that mental resolve on Saturday at Orlando Stadium in the Buccaneers’ first match of the 2017/18 season. Judging by Pirates’ training session on Thursday, the Serbian has injected positive energy in the group that was timid last season as they dropped their heads at the slightest trouble. Sredojevic will name a new captain before that match to replace Oupa Manyisa who joined Mamelodi Sundowns.
“We have a group of players with seniority and maturity who are supposed to lead the team,” Sredojevic said. “In the next 24 hours we will decide who will wear the armband. Happy Jele is not available for the first match.
"However, I would like to have a captain and three deputies who can take responsibility from each department (defence, midfield and attack) of being a leader and backbone of the team. He must take fully responsibility of being an extended hand of the coach in the field of play.”