ORLANDO PIRATES could be under new management by the end of the week, with assistant coach Tebogo Moloi poised to temporarily replace the unpopular Julio Leal after two weeks of unrest in the camp.
Following the Sowetan giants’ failure to progress in the African Champions League on Sunday, no-nonsense supremo Irvin Khoza will hold a “crisis meeting to map out the future” today, with the results expected to be announced later this week.
Coach out, assistant in? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it: Buccaneers or Blues? It matters not. This week, parallels between west London and Soweto have never been more significant. At Orlando Pirates today, chairman Khoza is deciding whether he should do a Roman Abramovich and fire the coach after less than a season in charge.
On Sunday, 5,000 miles north of Soweto, the young Portuguese coach at Chelsea, Andre Villas Boas, found himself ditched after less than eight months in charge after Saturday’s shocking 1-0 defeat against West Brom. Though the Blues remain in contention for the Champions League – they must overcome a 3-1 deficit against Napoli at Stamford Bridge next week – and face an FA Cup replay against Birmingham tomorrow night – AVB’s “project” was derailed. At 34, the man who started his coaching career as a scout under Jose Mourinho, finds himself unemployed. But not for long given the Portuguese League, Cup and Europa League he won last season.
At around the same time on Sunday, Leal put out a Pirates side without experienced – and hugely popular - striker Benni McCarthy in Angola as he attempted to overturn a 3-1 deficit against Libolo in Calulo. A desperate 1-1 draw ensued, with McCarthy coming on as a late substitute in a game marred by controversial injuries, a disallowed goal and a brief touchline brawl.
Unlike AVB in London, Leal hasn’t done that badly on the field. His side are currently third in the race to defend their league title, they start their Nedbank Cup defence at the weekend and they have already won the Telkom Knockout and MTN Super-eight.
The problem is that, like AVB, Leal has, as we said here last week, lost the dressing room.
AVB’s “project” was to ease out the old Mourinho mob at Chelsea – thirtysomethings Didier Drogba, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. He failed. Lamps, often left on the bench this season, went public with his “problems with the boss”.
At Pirates, Leal frequently leaves the 34-year-old, slightly overweight McCarthy on the bench, much to the chagrin of the black-and-white clad Ghost and his anxious team-mates. Leal also chooses to stick to his own particular methods and his broken English tends to result in frequent misunderstandings with the staff and players, who won the treble last season under the still-unemployed Dutch master Ruud Krol.
Abramovich has acted. In a brief phone call from the Russian elections on Sunday, he sacked AVB and put Roberto di Matteo, his assistant in charge.
Today, “Iron Duke” Khoza finds himself under pressure to act. Both he and Abramovich are rich, powerful men; they don’t suffer fools gladly, they don’t see losing as an option.
Like AVB, Leal has had eight brief months to sort things out. To persuade both players and fans he is the right man for the job. Like Chelsea, Pirates have as assistant waiting in the wings to take charge on a temporary basis. The difference between Tebogo Moloi and Robert di Matteo is that Moloi is relatively popular with the squad. Di Matteo is nothing of the sort. According to this morning’s Sun in London, he is “even more unpopular than AVB”.
There’s a chance, of course, the Leal – whose brother Jairo helps Pitso Mosimane at Bafana Bafana – will stay in his precarious position for a while longer. But ultimately, it’s only a matter of time before Irvin Khosa does a Roman Abramovich.
At Chelsea, the ghost of Jose Mourinho still lurks – he was seen house-hunting in London last week and is believed to be ready to leave Real Madrid once he’s wrapped up La Liga. In Orlando, Ruud Krol still stalks the stadia with his notebook and appearances on Robert Marawa’s Thursday Live. But it’s not always the obvious candidates who get the job. Watch this space.