JOHNNESBURG – Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic is starting to get annoyed at being constantly asked why he is playing down Orlando Pirates’ chances of winning the league even though they are in second place, four points behind log-leaders Mamelodi Sundowns.
“Once more I am telling you, and I am explaining myself for the last time on this matter, we are going match by match,” Sredojevic said after Pirates’ 3-1 win over Kaizer Chiefs in the Soweto Derby on Saturday at FNB Stadium. “The souls of our supporters are in pain from their sufferings of the past. Even myself (as a Pirates fan), I suffered before I came here.
It wasn’t easy. In a rare move I spoke with our chairman (Irvin Khoza) after we conceded six goals against Sundowns last season.” (The coach was referring to the 6-0 loss at Loftus Versfeld that saw Pirates’ fans go on a rampage, destroying property and attempting to beat up their own players).
Sredojevic continued, “I felt terrible despite being almost 5 000km away (in Uganda). We are still under that trauma from last season. We are doing anything possible to turn our sad faces into happy faces. I think our supporters appreciate the effort and the approach that every player gives in honour of the badge and the jersey. We are not sending any messages (by saying that we aren’t championship contenders). The only message we are sending to our supporters is be happy.”
Sredojevic’s conservative assessment is laced with mind games and some truth to it. The Buccaneers are behind their own target of collecting 10 points from each block of five games in the 30 Absa Premiership matches they will play. By now, on match No 23, they should be approaching 50 points instead of sitting on 39. But due to this season’s inconsistent displays they are among the chasing pack despite being behind their own targets.
The Buccaneers’ technical team have been arguing that they aren’t even a year into their tenure with the club and thus can’t be expected to compete against Sundowns who are led by Pitso Mosimane who will be completing his sixth year in charge of the club later this year while Steve Komphela has been at the helm of Amakhosi for three years. The conservative analysis of Pirates’ championship credentials could also be because the Buccaneers are fuelled by emotions with the desire to make up for last season.
Emotions are an unreliable fuel because they can create a veld fire in an instant but can also lead to self-destruction if not channeled right.
Sredojevic and his technical team so far have managed to channel those emotions just right, transforming the club from the sorry state they were last season to a force that floored two big boys, Chiefs and Sundowns, after going toe-to-toe with them - hinting at a bright future.
“We want to be a dominant side on the local front and we want to go to Africa and put another star on our badge (by winning the Champions League),” he said. “That’s our intention. But football is a game without logic. One plus one sometimes isn’t two.
I will tell you that we are happy where we are but we still believe that we have huge space to improve and develop. When the time comes that we are the final product - we expect, with all due respect to our competitors, that we will be above them and look to ensure that the souls of our supporters are healed.”