JOHANNESBURG - A week or so after teasing the appetite of starved Orlando Pirates fans in the build-up to the start of the 2018-19 season, coach Micho Sredojevic was at it again yesterday at the club’s training base.
This time the Serbian threw down the gauntlet, saying he was well aware of the “high expectations” from supporters and that the Buccaneers are ready for a fight. Sredojevic, now in his second season with the club following a good maiden one in which he arrived on the eve of that particular campaign and preached a message of rebuilding as well as lifting the morale, was relaxed.
Now and again the coach talked briefly about what he has done in the last 18 years on the continent - this being some measure of proof that if there is anyone who can help Pirates win a trophy for the first time in four years, it’s him and his backroom staff, which has been boosted on several occasions during pre-season with a team of specialists.
“We are controlling the happiness index, and we are trend-setters,” Sredojevic, speaking ahead of their Absa Premiership opener at home against newcomers Highlands Park on Saturday, explained. “We have tried to squeeze the best out of these players last season. If we want them to do better, we have to lift their tactical ability by bringing all these people who have this ability (backroom staff).
"We took the bold step to take care of this fitness and mental aspect of their game as the next step. We are writing a document. We are stretching ourselves, and, in the end, we want to look ourselves in the mirror and say we have given it our best in all five competitions that we are in.”
Pirates finished runners up to champions Sundowns last season, and they ran them close until the final weeks of that campaign. Throughout, Sredojevic maintained that his target was only to qualify for the CAF Champions League, meaning to finish second, which they did. Now what?
“I sit here blessed. I am fully aware that I am carrying dreams of millions and their happiness. In the last 18 years on the continent there have been huge demands on me. Once you are used to that, you lose the sense of pressure,” he replied. “I am fully aware of the expectations. But I am really enjoying working here. There are top quality players and great people. We are not hiding from pressure - we wake up wanting to do something extra for the Pirates family.”
Speaking of “top quality players”, the Buccaneers have made a few more signings to add to their playing personnel, while obviously offloading others and still to confirm the departure of a few more before the end of the current transfer window on August 31. The most notable of the new arrivals are goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo, midfielders Vincent Pule and Kudakwashe Mahachi.
Khuzwayo, whose debut is eagerly awaited by the fans and neutrals alike since his move from Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs last month, has unfortunately been ruled out for a month because of an ankle injury. The rest are raring to go, and so is Sredojevic.
“We have respect of other teams. But our job is to look into our own problems step by step, solving them and bringing our own game model out into the pitch. We want to be serious competitors,” he said.
Pirates have also brought in a finishing specialist in Frenchman Stephane Adam (announced yesterday), and the coach said he was hoping for a quick response from the players. “No person can tell you how long it will take to be effective, but we want it to work as soon as possible, maybe even on Saturday.”