JOHANNESBURG - It took a degree of bravery for Wayne Sandilands to leave the African champions for a team that recorded their worst-ever finish, but the promise of regular game time made the switch worth it.
“It was a challenge,” Sandilands said. “But I like challenges. You see that you can add value to a club. I am just so grateful and privileged that the move happened. It’s different when you’re watching from the outside and when you (are) there.
"I thought that I can contribute something and it was amazing when that opportunity was given to me. It’s been beautiful to be here and be a part of the process of rebuilding. We know that there is still a long way to go. We know that we haven’t arrived. There are so many things that we can improve on.”
Sandilands will enter Orlando Stadium on Wednesday night with the roles between Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns slightly reversed. The Brazilians have lost their aura of invincibility and have since been eliminated at the quarter-finals of the Caf Champions League and first round of the Telkom Knockout. The Tshwane team come into this match on the back of three successive defeats, a first under coach Pitso Mosimane, while Pirates come with a degree of confidence as they continue their upward trajectory.
This match will be an emotional encounter for Sandilands who faces Sundowns for the first time as a Buccaneer. In just three months at Pirates, Sandilands has played more matches (nine) than he did at Sundowns last season (six). But he holds no grudges against his former employers.
“It was a beautiful experience,” Sandilands said. “I achieved a lot in my time at Sundowns. The difficult moments added steel to my character and who I am as a person. I don’t regret my time at Sundowns. I was the Goalkeeper of the Season there. I was Sundowns’ Player of the Season and a Champions League winner there.
"It was a great time of gaining valuable experience and playing at the highest level. It taught me a lot and made me a better person. Even the rough patches made me appreciate the game even more and the time you get to play. I will always look at it as a positive move.”
Sandilands knows better than anyone how dangerous a vulnerable Sundowns team can be. After their fans turned on them two seasons ago following two successive defeats, the Brazilians bounced back and went on a 19-match unbeaten run in all competitions. The 34-year-old goalkeeper believes it will be important for him to keep his emotions in check, just like his teammates will do with Pirates' 6-0 drubbing against Downs in the league last season at the back of their minds.
“It’s about staying in the present and focusing on the process,” Sandilands said. “Everyone in this game has some baggage. But the past doesn’t play the game.”