JOHANNESBURG - The Brazil-inspired nickname that Orlando Pirates’ coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic calls Musa Nyatama sounds a lot like the surname of Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.
“I don’t call him Musa Nyatama. I call him Musolinho, because of the elegance and style he plays with, that’s very Brazilian-like. He has been a good role model and positive example from the first day I met him,” Sredojevic said.
Nyatama might be stylish and elegant like a Brazilian, but he also has dictatorial-tendencies in how he controls the midfield. He jealously guards the ball and has made the central defence position his own. He has missed just one match, due to an injury, in the club’s 16 Absa Premiership games so far.
Sredojevic’s main responsibility when it comes to selecting the starting XI has been to ponder who to partner Nyatama with, rather than contemplate whether the 30-year-old midfielder should play or not.
“So far I am happy with my performance even though the team hasn’t been doing well,” Nyatama said. “I think that we were supposed to win some of the games that we lost and drew last year. But the great start to the New Year (beating Baroka FC 3-1) will take us far and will boost our confidence.
"In the next game against (Mamelodi) Sundowns we also need to score as many goals as we can. We have struggled to score. Scoring three in our first match of the year will give us confidence.”
The Buccaneers’ clash with Sundowns on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld will be an emotional re-union for Nyatama. The Benoni-born midfielder struggled to get regular gametime in a star-studded Sundowns’ team which saw him sent on loan spells at Maritzburg United and Bloemfontein Celtic before he was released. He showed his class at the Team of Choice and Celtic with regular gametime and less pressure to excel.
His move to Pirates in a way was a test of whether he can survive the dog-eat-dog life of playing for a team with big demands and consistent quality performances. Nyatama has made a seamless transition to the Sea Robbers and even spoke militantly about facing a Sundowns’ team that has one of the strongest midfields in the country, led by the inspirational captain Hlompho Kekana.
“It’s going to be a difficult game against Sundowns. We know that very well. They lost against Polokwane City on Saturday. They are going to come at us guns blazing. We will do our best to ensure that we collect maximum points.
"They beat us in the first round. They owe us big time. We have to win. It’s a must for us. We also have quality in our side. We are prepared to leave blood on the field and we are work extra hard to get maximum points. We will make it a point that we win.”
The Brazilians will come into that match after taking on Ajax Cape Town on Tuesday night at Cape Town Stadium in their catch-up programme, while the Buccaneers have no midweek games.
Pirates will need all the advantage they can get as they were humbled in their last trip to Loftus, trashed 6-0 in a one-sided contest that was marred by violence when angry Pirates fans invaded the pitch. No one has yet been punished for that act of hooliganism, almost a year later.
Nyatama was still with Phunya Sele Sele during that clash and the Buccaneers’ worst finish in the PSL-era. While he doesn’t have the emotional baggage of last season’s disastrous campaign, he still nonetheless inherited the pressure the Buccaneers have to make amends. He has handled that situation well, contributing defensively as much as he does in attack.
“To be quite honest with you, when I came here the coach told me that he will use me in attack and defence in midfield - and I was happy with having to also contribute defensively, even though that’s not something I have done in my career,” Nyatama said. “His support and that of my teammates have helped me balance those responsibilities. I just have to ensure than whenever I am given a chance I give it 100% and I help the team win matches.”