Ok, if you’re a fan of Orlando Pirates, you might not want to read this. The disarray at the club is now a thing of concern. The Bucs’ ship clearly has holes in it and seems to be sinking at a rapid pace. I don’t think even the most ardent of their supporters has any hope of winning the league this season. So much has gone wrong already, and any side that has recorded five losses at this stage of the season surely has to concede that it’s just not going to happen for them.
Not only have the Buccaneers lost five matches already this campaign, but they are also a staggering 18 points behind log leaders Kaizer Chiefs. Now I’ve heard of a mountain to climb, but this has to be Everest itself. It has been a long time since the Sea Robbers were so poor in the league. This is a big club, and it normally reflects that status on all fronts.
As was expected, the club lost the all important Soweto Derby this past weekend. I say it was expected because no one can tell me they predicted a Pirates win here with all that’s been happening. Even their interim coach Eric Tinkler knew this. On Thursday, two days before the derby, I had an opportunity to ask Tinkler about the task ahead of him, and he started telling me that things are still tough at the club after the tragedy that befell them. For me this was a man already making excuses for losing the derby even before he played it. He was playing ‘the Senzo card’. I don’t know much about psychology and probably not in the best position to tell if that’s still in the players’ minds, but I do know that if a coach shows any signs of timidity going into any game, it will most probably rub off on the players, and my word that’s exactly what happened on the day.
I have seen many Soweto Derbies in my life, and many of them were live. Normally Pirates press hard and is the side that dominates. If Chiefs win the derby, it’s normally on counter attacks perfectly executed, or set play routines that unsettle them. But this particular derby went exactly according to the form book. I knew they were going to have problems immediately I saw six changes to their lineup, matching the six that were made just four days earlier against Maritzburg United. Three of those changes were in the back four. This highlighted the confusion in the team with regards to the first team. There’s just no consistency there. All the teams that win the league do it with a stable back four that doesn’t change all that much. Amakhosi on the other hand, hardly ever changes in that department. Erick Mathoho and Tefu Mashamaite have formed such an understanding that it is hard to see them beaten easily. Siboniso Gaxa and Tsepo Masilela out wide are also former Bafana Bafana internationals, so they have a wealth of experience between them, and have perfected the art of wing play when their team has the ball. This allows the likes of Siphiwe Tshabalala and Mandla Masango to drift inside and add numbers attacking down the middle. This is why most teams struggle to pick them out when they play their quick one-twos. Chiefs and Pirates are just light years apart at the moment. The tactical bankruptcy at Pirates is just so obvious that I was stunned when Tinkler pulled out Daine Klate for Thabo Matlaba when they were trailing the game. I mean I know Thabo is good going forward, but for me he’s still a defender and I was just wondering if there were no other attacking players to replace Klate. This was unlike Stuart Baxter who has gotten us used to bringing on Morgan Gould when he wants to close shop. I have even started calling Gould the match winner. The lack of game time for a guy like Rooi Mahamutsa showed when he was left for dead by George Lebese with that single flick and set up Siphelele Mthembu for Chiefs’ second goal. Again punching holes in the coach’s decision to change his defence on the occasion of the derby. Though I expected Pirates to lose this match, for me they were shockingly bad on the day.
Coach Vladimir Vermezovic probably did the best thing by leaving before this game, because I doubt he was going to leave the stadium without heavy police presence. He had got it wrong on so many occasions that I suspect this loss would have been too much for their hard-to-please fans to swallow. The worrying factor is that the man he left there seems to be playing the same negative football that he did. Proof positive was the two defensive midfielders that he put in on Saturday, already inviting trouble for himself. I can tell you that this system will fail him again if he persists with it against a Sundowns team that looks like they have regained equilibrium. If they lose this game, it will be another big game in less than a week. But more importantly, it will be their third consecutive defeat at home. This is not the kind of reading that will sit well with chairman Irvin Khoza, and he might be tempted to ring some changes very soon, starting with the goalkeeping department. Word in the corridors has it that the club might just go on emergency shopping for a goalminder in the coming January window to replace the late Senzo Meyiwa. Brighton Mhlongo has been given a chance and perhaps still needs to grow in his game. He’s a keeper so he has lots of time. Sundowns’ Wayne Sandilands is tipped as the man targeted by Dr Khoza, and if the offer is right he will definitely go since he’s not getting enough game time at Chloorkop. Sandilands has been in the game for a long time, and also did the rounds at the national team in days gone by. So he would be the right man for the job. Furthermore Pirates will maybe look to get a fresh start at the end of the season and make the necessary adjustments to avoid another horror season where they’re haunted by their own Ghost.