IT TAKES MORE THAN A VUVUZELA TO KNOCK ME DOWN. BUT WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME.
Those are not my words, they are the words of Bucca Bucca boss Roger de Sa, the only football coach under more pressure than QPR’s Harry Redknapp in the football-speaking world right now.
De Sa, pelted with vuvuzelas by the violent elements of the Ghost after Wednesday night’s epic 1-1 draw with AmaZulu in Durban, has never shied away from the pressures of managing one of South Africa’s biggest footballing franchises.
A few weeks ago, the former Wits and Santos boss told me: “Every week could be my last at Pirates, I face that every day and I face it head on. I knew that when I took this job.”
After the missile-throwing mayhem at the Moses Mabhida – the FIFTH incident of Ghostly misbehaviour from the nation’s most notorious fans in two tears – De Sa shrugged off the impending furore: “It takes more than a vuvuzela to know me down! Sometimes it's just a bunch of crazy fans. You don't see that happening. You need to speak to people who know the game.
“Obviously you’re always going to get a couple of them that are angry, that’s the way it goes in football all over the world.
“Fans want to blame one person. We’re second on the log. When I arrived at this club they were 10th.”
We exchanged text messages last night, with De Sa – hit in the face by one missile thrown by the crowd - offering a reassuring “Yup, all okay” before issuing the stock quote: “Time is running out. It's becoming more and more difficult. We have to focus, keep on working.”
De Sa admits his side “took the foot off the pedal” after going ahead in Durban and he now boasts a record of one-pointers to rival SuperSport United coach Gavin Hunt. Some say Pirates – without a PSL win in five – are drawing more than the controversial cartoonist Zapiro.
But Pirates fans should note AmaZulu, under new coach Craig Rosslee, are hardly a pushover these days. Unbeaten this year, former Pirates assistant coach Rosslee said: “It was like a boxing match at times. Pirates looked hungry but we clawed our way back to get a point. I'm very happy with the way the guys got back into the game.”
And the missile-throwing Ghost may not have noticed Kaizer Chiefs, seven points ahead of their Soweto rivals, nearly came unstuck themselves in a come-from-behind 1-1 draw with Maritzburg United at Polokwane.
Now Pirates face the home leg of their Champions League tie with Zambia’s habitual title-holders Zanaco at Soccer City on Saturday while Chiefs go to Golden Arrows in the PSL. Defeat for Chiefs means Pirates, if they were to win both games in hand against Ajax and Sundowns, could go to within a point of the top with five to play.
Unlike Spain, England and Germany, the PSL remains wide open if Chiefs let complacency creep in despite Stuart Baxter’s strict instructions not to.
With #rogerandout trending on twitter, I urge caution to those Buccaneers hoping for last-gasp regime change, a reflex sacking in Chippa style.
True, there will be no third treble for the Iron Duke’s Sea Robbers. The sacking of Ruud Krol after the first championship was a mistake De Sa could do nothing about. And the decision to let Tokelo Rantie return to Scandinvia after a year on loan plundering goals with Benni McCarthy was out of his hands too.
De Sa took over from Peruvian youth coach Augusto “Bad Back” Palacios at a time of turmoil early this season, he did so in the middle of huge upset in his own private life (see http://www.neal-collins.blogspot.com/2012/09/music-to-iron-dukes-ears-benni-mccarthy.html, some Pirates fans may feel less inclined to confront their coach after reading) and he has, despite the obvious difficulties, taken the club to second in the PSL and further in the Champions League than most expected.
I felt Pirates did okay against AmaZulu and have every chance of taking the title fight down to the wire. Others are less optimistic. They are amazed to hear last year’s Championship-clincher McCarthy was in Spain on personal business while his team-mates were fighting it out against AmaZulu.
One source inside the club told me how, when Benni won an award at the PSL honours ceremony last year, he spent the ENTIRE R15,000 prize money on drinks for the squad.
And they suggest Benni – who famously fought with De Sa and his hardman assistant Eric Tinkler when after the Telkom KO final between Wits and Pirates last season – is the key to unrest in the camp. That his couldn’t care less attitude – which includes attending boxing matches, commentating on SuperSport when his side are playing and contradicting De Sa on his fitness – has poisoned the atmosphere.
Moeneeb Josephs, replaced by Senzo Meyiwa in goal, has a role to play too. Dropped and injured, the shadow of Josephs looms large. He may be toothless but the man has fangs; he is a major character and a charismatic figure. Before the last Soweto derby, Irvin Khoza apparently told De Sa Josephs MUST play after the defeats against Maluti FET College and Moroka Swallows saw Meyiwa concede seven goals in two games.
But De Sa stuck to his guns, ordered Josephs to stay well away from Soccer City to prevent chants of “Slimkat” from the Ghost, and Senzo was man of the match in a goalless draw.
Then there’s the Nigerian veteran Onyekachi Donatus Okonkwo. In his second spell at the club, Okonkwo has done little of merit but my scorpions tell me the man who once famously got to grips with referee Daniel Bennett he had a tiff with one of the technical staff recently amid growing tensions.
Andile Jali started Wednesday night’s game like a train and my Bafana scouting instincts were alerted – but the little man soon tired and was spraying wayward passes by the end. Was that heart problem in 2010 just a scare?
Lucky Lekgwathi, the over-experienced captain, was blamed by some for the equaliser while Siya Sangweni’s injury comes on top of casualties like Thandani Ntshumayelo and Rooi Mahamutsa.
Take all this and then throw in Patrick Phungwayo, persuaded to have a go at De Sa – who was also his boss at Wits – in the post-match interview on Wednesday.
Yes, the list of problems is long, but not endless.
To those Pirates fans who suggest the team is “not trying” because De Sa has “lost the dressing room” I say: BUNKUM. It’s too early for professional players to give up and scupper their coach’s career when there is silverware still to be won.
I suggest the Ghost should haunt Zanaco tomorrow (8.15pm LIVE on SABC1). Blimey, if they never get punished for it, then why not throw missiles at the Zambians and create a nasty atmosphere for African Champions league visitors for once. Victory over the big-talking bankers – stunned by a 1-0 home defeat in the first leg - would be a REAL coup for South Africa football.
And for the rest of the season – or at least until Benni sings and the title is mathematically beyond their reach – perhaps it would be a good idea for all black-and-white fans to support De Sa and his so-called DeSasters.
If you won’t take my word for it, how about this from Lekgwathi, a man I have met and admired: "Our supporters have to understand that not all games will go our way. They should support us in good times and bad, that is what true supporters do.
"We can overcome this slump, this winless streak must end. We are a big club and winning has become a way of life - but supporters need to understand sometimes victory is hard to come by. We must pull together.”
Seven points behind with a game in hand? Stranger things have happened. Ask Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager in 1995. His Toon were 12 points ahead of Manchester United in February. And they famously blew it, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson all smiles and Keegan headed for the exit.
Have faith, Bucca Bucca. You never know…
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