Sport

SOCCER

Spanish coach José Riveiro has Orlando Pirates flowing like a river in his maiden season

Spanish coach José Riveiro has Orlando Pirates flowing like a river in his maiden season
José Riveiro, head coach of Orlando Pirates, during the MTN8 final match between AmaZulu FC and Orlando Pirates at Moses Mabhida Stadium on 5 November 2022 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

Eyebrows were raised by South African soccer followers when José Riveiro was appointed as Orlando Pirates coach last year. So far, he has proven to be worth his weight in salt.

It’s almost a full season since little-known Spaniard José Riveiro ascended to the prestigious seat of Orlando Pirates coach. Those who doubted his qualities are currently stuffing their mouths with humble pie.

Riveiro was under immense scrutiny when the Buccaneers tasked him with steering the club to success and possibly snapping the domestic dominance of Mamelodi Sundowns.

“The Pirates project is an exciting one and I look forward to what lies ahead. It is an honour for me and my colleagues to have the responsibility to coach such an institution and compete for the highest goals,” the 47-year-old said on his appointment.

Having spent most of his coaching years in Finland, hardly a soccer powerhouse (though neither is South Africa at the moment, to be fair), there were questions on whether the Spanish mentor would be successful during his time with the Soweto side.

He has already helped the Sea Robbers to wrestle the MTN8 trophy from Sundowns’ grasp this season.

Most recently, he guided his team to their second final of the season after they beat bitter rivals Kaizer Chiefs to reach the Nedbank Cup final, where they will face Sekhukhune United at the end of May.

To top it all, Riveiro and his men are in pole position to finish second behind perennial SA top-flight champions Masandawana in the DStv Premiership this season.

They sit second (on 50 points) with two matches left to play. Gavin Hunt’s SuperSport United are also in the hunt for the coveted runner-up position, trailing the Soweto side by just two points. Whoever claims it will earn the opportunity to participate in next season’s CAF Champions League competition.

Orlando Pirates coach José Riveiro, media officer Thandi Merafe and Paseka Mako celebrate during the Nedbank Cup semifinal match between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates at FNB Stadium on 6 May 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Frennie Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Just doing my job

Taking stock of his successful debut season at a recent media engagement, Riveiro shared that he was not really surprised by his positive impact in his maiden campaign on South African soil.

“Absolutely, [I thought I’d do well], I’m a very optimistic guy, very positive. Even though I don’t look like it at times,” Riveiro, who regularly wears a deadpan face, was quoted as saying by iDiskiTimes.

“I always think everything is going to be alright, I swear. In sport you need to have that mentality. Wherever you are, you have to approach your life and your profession with that mentality and make sure that you compete and convince those around you that everything is possible. It goes without saying, otherwise, what kind of leader am I?”

Despite the team’s success under his tutelage, Riveiro refuses to take all the credit.  

“I’m coaching Orlando Pirates — with all the respect for everyone else … So, it’s possible [to do well], because I have fantastic material and a lot of quality. I can’t make miracles. It’s not about me. It’s about the whole team, the coaching staff, the players … I know it’s a topic, but it’s the truth,” the Spaniard said.

José Riveiro, head coach of Orlando Pirates, during the DStv Premiership match between Chippa United and Orlando Pirates at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on 8 April 2023 in Gqeberha, South Africa. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

He added that he was thrilled that his team had reached yet another final this season, and that this happiness would be multiplied if his charges win the Nedbank Cup on 27 May.

“I will be happy in three weeks, much happier if we’re champions. Otherwise, it’s nice to be in the finals. Pirates should be regularly in every final. So, I’m not doing something exceptional,” he told journalists.

In spite of his humility, Riveiro is on the cusp of leading the Buccaneers to their most successful season since Dutch coach Ruud Krol was in charge of the team.

Under the Dutch tactician the Buccaneers made history when they became the first club in the Premier Soccer League era (since 1996) to win three major domestic trophies in a single season. They achieved the feat back-to-back between 2011 and 2012.

They then had an extensive trophy drought which stretched back to 2014, but was snapped by German coach Josef Zinnbauer when he helped them win the MTN8 in 2020.

If Riveiro manages to clinch the Nedbank Cup, it’ll be the team’s most fruitful season in more than a decade. It will also put paid to questions on his credentials and coaching ability — although he has already done enough to prove that he is more than worthy of the Pirates hot seat. DM

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