No title talk yet, we're in our building phase, said Micho Sredojevic. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – One wonders what Orlando Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza, a man who was quick to remind Muhsin Ertugral that he wasn’t on holiday following his appointment as Buccaneers coach a season ago, thinks of Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic’s latest remarks made yesterday.

“The team leading the log standings (Mamelodi Sundowns) has at least five years with their coach. The other team we are playing on Saturday (Kaizer Chiefs in the Soweto Derby) has three years with the coach. We are seven to eight months together. We are a work in progress and therefore we are not putting players under pressure to chase for the league,” Sredojevic said.

The Serbian mentor took on the Pirates job almost a year after Ertugral was hired, although the Turkish coach quit three months into the campaign, triggering a merry-go-round of replacements at the club with Augusto Palacios taking over in the interim before moving aside for little known Kjell Jonevret from Sweden.

Pirates are indeed a work in progress, having last won the championship six years ago, and, according to Sredojevic, who succeeded Jonevret two weeks before the start of this season, are still behind on their own targets for the season in terms of points reached per games played.

But how is it possible that, ahead of a Soweto Derby that’s been dubbed a potential title decider, a team that is currently just four points behind leaders Sundowns with eight games remaining isn’t considering winning the championship?

“We know the best outcome for the club - we know what we want,” Sredojevic explained. “Our intention is to rule at a local level, to go to Africa (CAF tournaments) and rule there, bring a second star. We know what we are doing. Our focus is the criteria and standards that are making you contenders for the league.”

The coach consistently argued that any title talk would bring about negativity in Pirates’ outstanding matches.

“We have absolutely no right to talk about this because it will lock the legs of the players. Let them feel free,” said Sredojevic. “Let them express themselves. Why do we need to put pressure on them? Pressure should stay with me and (assistant) coach Rhulani and the rest of the technical team. Let the players just be responsible for playing their games and enjoying them.”

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Khoza may have a few choice words given the championship drought that will stretch to a seventh year should Pirates not eclipse Sundowns by the end of the season.

Sredojevic’s counterpart at arch-rivals Chiefs, Steve Komphela, did not want to be drawn in too much into this debate, but offered a balanced argument why the Serb would be so determined to manage expectations.

“With Pirates I can say that (they are in a rebuilding phase), but if I say that about me, it’s more like buying time,” said Komphela.

“You can see what they are doing, and I am sure very soon that thing will click. Already it is starting to. Building a team is not easy, but it is good to see them come to this level. It has come together quite fast given it’s only the first year. And their acquisitions got to understand each other, get the energy or telepathy. This wasn’t the case with us. It takes long to build teams.”

Asked why is it that a team that is third on the table in Chiefs is under more pressure to win the Absa Premiership than second placed Pirates, Komphela said it comes with the territory of being Amakhosi coach.

“It’s part of life,” he said with a smile. “I have been sitting asking myself why out of my three colleagues at Sundowns and Pirates I am the only who is under more pressure to win the league even though I am No.3? But it is part of life. I am tempted to say whoever wins on Saturday is likely to challenge for the championship because Sundowns have a tight schedule now that they are back in the Champions League.”


The Star