Johannesburg - This week’s announcement of the imminent departure of Orlando Pirates captain Oupa “Ace” Manyisa to Mamelodi Sundowns came as a huge shock to the football fraternity.
The main reason for this shock is that transfers of that magnitude are usually preceded by some speculation. In this case, there was not a whisper, despite the fact that there had been previous attempts – solidly rebuffed – by Sundowns to nab him.
Another reason is that Manyisa was always expected to see out the twilight years of his career at Pirates. Like the Frank Lampards and Steven Gerrard's of this world, it was hard to imagine him playing for another PSL team.
The third – and perhaps the most important – reason was Manyisa’s key role in helping the Buccaneers achieve two back-to-back trebles, mount two outstanding African campaigns and be a permanent fixture in domestic cup final fixtures.
For these reasons, he was Mr Pirates, a player whose dominance was key to the success of the Buccaneers and whose absence or off-form days dented the team’s effectiveness. Following the catastrophic 2016/17 season, it was surmised that Captain Ace would spearhead the revival of Pirates’ fortunes in the coming season when a new coach arrived. This was erroneous thinking. For Pirates to rise again, Manyisa had to exit.
Having once represented the best of Pirates in the glory seasons, Manyisa now represented the worst. The Ace who came back from injury was jaded.
As leader, he was no Lucky Lekgwathi or Siyabonga Sangweni, men who could rally the troops through words and performance. Off the field, he had become far from exemplary and was part of the discord and chaos that was the Bucs camp.
Ace has given what he could to Pirates, having once achieved the incredible by playing 51 out of 53 games in league, cup and continental competitions in the 2013/14 season. It is now time for him to rediscover his mojo elsewhere.
Good luck to him!
With Manyisa’s departure, Pirates now have the opportunity to reset and chart a new way forward.
The recruitment of Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic as head coach provides chair Irvin Khoza a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the faithful, whose angry grumbles were beginning to sound like those of the South African population when talking about the president.
Khoza’s decision to let go of Ruud Krol in 2011 earned him the ire of “The Ghost”. The first treble was supposed to the beginning of a prolonged period of glory. The success of the second treble, won under Augusto Palacios in 2012, was achieved on the back of the fuel that Krol had injected into the side. Roger De Sá, the next permanent appointment, was a one-dimensional coach who was not Pirates material.
De Sá’s replacement with Vladimir “VV” Vermezovic, an unhinged and irascible Serb, was disastrous. He didn’t last. The confirmation of Eric Tinkler, who had been assistant to De Sá and VV was an inspired gamble that could have laid a great foundation for the coming seasons. But he, too, was inexplicably let go just as the team was gelling. A bit more investment of time in Tinkler would have been reaping incredible results by now. The period that followed Tinkler’s departure was nothing short of cataclysmic. The short reign of hot-headed Muhsin Ertugral ended in humiliation and he was replaced by a now over-the-hill Palacios.
With Pirates squads failing to find the back of the net while the opposition was finding the back of theirs multiple times, Khoza’s solution was unknown Swede Kjell Jonevret, who had an emasculated CV. Pirates went from underwhelming to boring. At some point during the season, the red lights of the relegation zone flashed brightly. The rest is a history too painful to recount.
It is now time to erase those memories. Time for therapy.
Even though it did not have the input of the incoming coach, Pirates’ off-season transfer activity has been encouraging. The arrival of veteran goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands will certainly halt the leaking at the back. Twenty-year-old Nigerian striker Christian Obiozor, who is seen as a great prospect for the Super Eagles, seems to be the answer to the blunt attack. Super-talented central midfielder Thamsanqa Sangweni could grow into an even better creative asset than what the faltering Manyisa was towards the end of his Pirates career. He is also hard man.
Sredojevic’s first big task will be to kill the factions that have rendered the Pirates team more divided than the ANC leading up to the December elective conference. Tales coming from the camp speak of players hardly talking to each other in the change rooms, sending passes only to friends even when someone else is in a better position and that the silence on the team bus resembles a Buddhist retreat.
With Khoza’s help, Sredojevic will also have to stand firm against that perennial Pirates problem: the invisible hand of senior executives who interfere in team selection. This culture, which is allegedly driven by the said senior executives’ personal business interests in particular players, is football’s worst-kept secret. Players know it, past coaches talk about it, journalists know it and many fans know. Surely, then, Khoza must know about it too.
If Sredojevic is to bring Pirates back to the summit of Kilimanjaro, it is important for Khoza to stamp this interference problem out once and for all. Otherwise, the investments of this season will come to naught and The Ghost will be compelled to resort to what we are best known for when things are not going right.