JOHANNESBURG - The fact that Orlando Pirates are yet to be at their best under him, makes coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic sleep peacefully, knowing that they can only improve from their satisfactory start.
The Buccaneers are yet to be an all-conquering team, with numerous holes in their game. Their central defence pairing is still shaky, while they don’t have a consistent playmaker and their strike force doesn’t send shivers down their opponent’s spine. But despite those shortcomings and the pressure to move away from last season’s disastrous campaign, Pirates have found a way to grind results and collect 13 points from eight matches.
Pirates’ technical team divided their 30 league matches to six sets of five games. The aim is to at collect a minimum of 10 points in each set.
The Soweto giants collected 11 points from their first five matches, only to stutter in the three that followed - bagging a paltry three points. They will look to make-up for falling behind on their own targets, by getting maximum points against their arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs in the Soweto Derby at FNB Stadium on Saturday.
“We are far, far from being at our best,” Sredojevic said. “That injects motivation and makes me go to sleep happy and wake up knowing that we will do our best as we continuously improve. You can’t predict how long it will take for us to get to our best. It’s not like this phone, that I can press a button and it works. Building a team is a process.
"In football, you go three steps forward and one step back. There is no logic as to why that happens. I am happy with the commitment, determination and hard work the players have given me. We can only go up.”
The Soweto Derby isn’t an unfamiliar challenge for the Serbian coach. He was involved in one during his first stint at the old FNB Stadium before it was refurbished for the 2010 World Cup.
Just like the venue for Saturday's derby will be pristine and world class, so is Sredojevic’s knowledge of playing in such a game as he argues he is a better coach after his exploits on the continent.
“In front of you is a coach who has coached in very big derbies in each country I have been at. I was involved in the biggest derby in Uganda between SC Villa and Express, the biggest derby in Ethiopia between Saint George and Ethiopian Coffee and the biggest derby in Tanzania between Yanga (Young Africans) and Simba," Sredojevic.
“I have been involved in the biggest derby in Sudan, Al-Hilal (Omdurman) v Al-Merrikh - teams that regularly play in the (Caf) Champions League. I am used to it. In the last six years I wasn’t involved in club football but now I am back. There is no pressure but I have the biggest responsibility to take care of every possible detail that can make you a hero or zero in a game of this magnitude.”
The hype surrounding the Soweto Derby is its worst enemy. The fear of failure and repercussions that the losing team faces makes players play not to lose rather than gun for a win.
“A match of this magnitude has tension and pressure,” Sredojevic said. “But I want that tension and pressure to stay with me and the technical team on the bench and let players play with freedom so that they can give their best. I am convinced that with the talent and quality we have, we will get the result that we want.”