Triumph caps a memorable season for Orlando Pirates, but more work still to be done

Triumph caps a memorable season for Orlando Pirates, but more work still to be done
Orlando Pirates captain Innocent Maela lifts the Nedbank Cup after a 2-1 win over Sekhukhune United at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Orlando Pirates’ Spanish coach José Riveiro says despite an incredibly successful season in which they finished with two pieces of silverware, once they are done celebrating they need to work on being even better next season.

Orlando Pirates have just concluded their most successful season in more than a decade after beating Sekhukhune United 2-1 in the Nedbank Cup final – the closing match of the season on Saturday 27 May.

The Sea Robbers hauled themselves from 1-0 down against the dogged Babina Noko during a sold-out affair at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane. This after Sibusiso Vilakazi’s 12th-minute strike stunned the Soweto side and their faithful, who came out in droves to witness the occasion.

However, goals during the injury time periods of either stanza ensured the Buccaneers captured the Cup bounty to close off a memorable campaign.

Tapelo Xoki slotted in a penalty during additional time in the first half. Terrence Dzvukamanja then stroked in a cross from talisman Monnapule Saleng in the 95th minute – sending the fans into a frenzy and guaranteeing that Pirates end the season with a second trophy.

Orlando Pirates captain Tapelo Xoki celebrates scoring a penalty during the Nedbank Cup final against Sekhukhune United. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

They also won the MTN8 trophy at the beginning of the 2022/2023 season – the second time in three seasons they achieved this feat.

With the Nedbank Cup now part of their bounty haul for this campaign, it’s the first time since 2012 that the Bucs have won more than one major trophy in a single season.

Have to be better

Nevertheless, Riveiro says the work is just beginning and after celebrating this fruitful campaign, they must work even harder for the upcoming one.

Despite playing in every possible domestic match this campaign, the Bucs still finished 16 points behind serial South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns in the DStv Premiership.

That gap is the joint-largest between first and second place in the domestic league since the inception of the Premier Soccer League in 1996. Cape Town City also trailed Sundowns by the same number of points at the conclusion of the 2021/2022 season.

That’s why Riveiro insisted after their latest triumph that he and his team have to be even better next season.

“We’re going to try again. Everyone will start with zero points. The score will be nil-nil in every competition. We will try to do some things better and differently,” the Spanish coach told journalists after their victory over Sekhukhune.

“Because if we do the same, we’re not going to get the same [results as this season]. We need to move forward. Every team is going to try to get better. We cannot be an exception. We cannot be thinking ‘now we’re double champions’ and because of that everything next season is going to be a bed of roses,” he added.

Impressive debut

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

Orlando Pirates coach José Riveiro during the Soweto Derby press conference at The Wanderers Club on 23 February 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

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

For the most part, he has lived up to this responsibility, alongside his right and left hand, assistant coaches Mandla Ncikazi and Sergio Almenara.

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.

His answers to the naysayers – even if they were not at the forefront of his mind (according to him) have been clear and concise since his appointment. Though he remains humble.    

“You’re giving me too much importance. We did it [as a team]. We have a fantastic group. We have resources… I might be a bit more popular in the streets after 11 months here,” he told journalists after the Cup final.

“But we’re a team. I will always emphasize this. Because it’s the thing that will help us be what we want to be in the future.”

Being better means possibly toppling Sundowns and halting their Premiership reign. That endeavour will be a much more difficult one for the head honcho of the Sea Robbers’ ship, as well as his crew.

Pirates last won a league title the same season they completed a historic second consecutive domestic treble during the 2011/2012 campaign. On the other hand, Masandawana have become perennial winners of the Premiership after clinching it for the sixth time on the trot this season.  

As such, the Tshwane giants will not be easy to usurp. However, this season from Pirates has shown that they have the potential to do it. If only they could be a bit more consistent. DM


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