JOHANNESBURG – In a tailored black suit, earning himself the tag of “fashionista” from chairman Irvin Khoza, Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic, stepped into his new job as Orlando Pirates’ coach in style.
The Serbian coach spoke with confidence backed by his success on the continent after leaving the Buccaneers a decade ago. Sredojevic returns with an impressive CV – four league titles, four Coach-of-the-Year awards and an act that earned him cult status in Uganda after guiding the Cranes to their first appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations in almost four decades.
But the question remains, is the Serbian as perfect a fit at Pirates as the suit he wore at his official unveiling?
The answer is yes, based on his knowledge of the club, his achievement on the continent and his growth in the last 10 years. Sredojevic spoke like a man who had reunited with his first love.
He remembers just how many months he has been away from the Sea Robbers (127), which shows he has been following the club closely all along and he even offered condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in last week’s stampede at FNB Stadium.
The love is mutual. Khoza spoke glowingly about him, happy that he’s finally got the man he wanted to bring in in February but was put off by a hefty buy-out clause.
“Hiring a coach is like entering an arranged marriage; you hope for the best. But it also depends on what do we do to make it work and get the best out of him,” Khoza said.
If the allegations by the club’s two former players, Lennox Bacela and Mark Mayambela, on Twitter are anything to go by, a coach’s “marriage” with the Buccaneers isn’t that straightforward. The pair hinted that there is interference from the top. Mayambela went as far as to say Pirates have had the same coach for the last 10 years but have only changed trainers.
“Everyone needs to do their own job,” Sredojevic said. “My job here as a football person is to solve the million and one problems I’ve seen. I will deal with the football issues on the field of play. I am a team player and I will give my full contribution from the point of view of coaching.”
Sredojevic returns as a matured and accomplished coach compared to the 38-year-old who left Pirates after just seven months, during which time he introduced a young Senzo Meyiwa and Happy Jele into the set-up.
His lack of fear of throwing youngsters into the deep-end should see a number of overlooked young players get the nod which is important as Pirates need fresh blood.
But Sredojevic’s survival at Pirates will not only be based on how he does on the field but also by how he negotiates the numerous minefields in his patch.
The biggest of these is the mindsets of the players who have been accused of using their power to get their own way. In his first address to the players, ‘Micho’ told them that “it is unacceptable that anyone working at Pirates doesn’t have the right attitude.”
“We want him (‘Micho’) to stay for a long time,” Khoza said.
“But it depends on him in terms of how he is going to adjust because coming to Pirates, there are a lot of expectations. They are not unreasonable because we realise some of our challenges.”