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CHASING MASANDAWANA

José Riveiro believes it’s just a matter of time before determined Pirates catch Sundowns 

José Riveiro believes it’s just a matter of time before determined Pirates catch Sundowns 
Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro during the Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates joint press conference at Nedbank Offices in Johannesburg, South Africa. 30 May 2024. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

After winning two trophies in his first-ever season coaching in South Africa, Orlando Pirates coach José Riveiro helped the club defend those titles this campaign. In the upcoming season, they aim to close the gap on league champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

It’s been two years since José Riveiro was announced as the man who would take the trophy-winning baton from German coach Josef Zinnbauer. The latter had snapped a barren silverware run of six years by the Buccaneers as he guided them to MTN8 success in 2020.

Zinnbauer’s dual assistants Mandla Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids briefly ran with the baton as co-coaches when the German coach suddenly resigned just one game into the 2021/2022 season. The duo finished sixth in the DStv Premiership, which was deemed not good enough for Pirates. Hence the arrival of Riveiro.

They did, however, reach the Caf Confederation Cup final, in which they were vanquished 5-4 on penalties by Moroccan outfit RS Berkane. This was the foundation from which Riveiro was expected to build upon by the Pirates hierarchy, led by club chairperson Irvin Khoza.

Since his arrival in mid-2022, Riveiro has snatched the baton and sprinted to four domestic Cup trophies. In the Spaniard’s debut season in African soccer, the Sea Robbers won the MTN8 and Nedbank Cup.

In the recently concluded 2023/2024 campaign, Pirates impressively managed to defend both their pieces of silverware. In addition to this, they finished as runners-up to the relentless Mamelodi Sundowns machine for the second season in a row.

It is an astonishing collection of displays for someone whose appointment was met with much disdain and ridicule, both from some sections of the Pirates fanbase — as well as from opposition supporters.

Riveiro arrived in South Africa having spent almost eight years coaching in Finland. A country hardly known for its soccer prowess, save for the accomplishments of its acclaimed players such as former Ajax Amsterdam attacker Jari Litmanen and retired Liverpool defender Sami Hyypiä.

This is why, when he was installed as captain of Sea Robbers’ ship, many eyebrows were raised. Questions of Riveiro’s pedigree and his ability to be the face of an institution as massive Pirates being at the forefront.

Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro

Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro during the DStv Premiership match between Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. 9 March 2024. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

A calm head

“I try to do things with calmness. I’m not a person that talks so much, [but someone] who observes everything I can, as quickly as possible,” Riveiro told Orlando Pirates TV a couple of months after ascending to the hot seat.

Hence, in spite of the noise surrounding his appointment early on, the tactician — born in the city of Vigo, which is located along Spain’s northwest coast — kept his head down and focused on his job. Yielding the results he has managed in the last couple of years as a consequence.

Whenever Riveiro speaks, his responses are measured and well-considered. Engagements with him usually contain the word “calm.” It is undoubtedly this spirit of tranquillity that has seen him achieve all that he has in such a short period with the Buccaneers.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rulani Mokwena and José Riveiro have shown quality as PSL standout coaches in recent seasons

The 46-year-old earned his first coaching license at 19, attaining the Uefa B license. He then added his A license not long after that, before eventually acquiring his Uefa professional license.

“When I was about 14 years old, I was making reports about the team I was playing for. So, I started making reports about my team and the opponents. Then I would share those reports with my coach. He did not care so much. But I had that illusion that I’m helping the coach do things better,” said Riveiro on when his love for coaching came about.

“When I was 17, I had my first experience as a coach. I was coaching an under-11 team, in the same club where I was playing at that time. My father was the one who pushed me to get a coaching license,” the Spaniard said.

“Maybe he wished that his son could do something football-related… I was not a good player. Not good enough. So, I realised early that I’m not going to be a professional player. So, coaching could be one way that I could be involved in football,” Riveiro stated.

Jose Riveiro head coach of Orlando Pirates

Jose Riveiro head coach of Orlando Pirates during the DStv Premiership match between Orlando Pirates and Stellenbosch FC at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. 29 December 2023. (Photo: Christiaan Kotze/Gallo Images)

Pirates ship

Since arriving as an unknown in the South African soccer fraternity, Riveiro has won over a number of people who doubted him. For him though, as he constantly points out, he is just doing his job, not trying to make anyone eat humble pie.

Whether it has been his intention or not, a number of his initial detractors are completely stuffed.

“A lot of people don’t know how good he is. Because he does not really talk a lot. He’s a quiet person. But he’s a very smart man,” Pirates defender Olisa Ndah said on SABC’s Sports Night Amplified when asked what makes Riveiro special.

“We work with him every week and there’s always something new that we’re learning. Even the slightest details, like body-positioning when you receive the ball. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve worked with,” Ndah added.

Despite his tactical astuteness, the fact that second-placed Pirates finished a record 23 points behind seven-in-a-row Premiership champions Sundowns is still a stick that Riveiro has been beaten with by his critics.

Questions have been asked on why Pirates cannot match Sundowns in the league, or at least be much closer to them point-wise.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Sundowns steal morale-boosting league win ahead of crucial Champions League contest

Especially because of the four knockout trophies that Pirates and Riveiro have won, two have come from vanquishing the Brazilians in the decider. First in the 2023 MTN8 final, then in the recent Nedbank Cup final.

Riveiro believes it’s just a matter of time before his side narrows the gap that Sundowns has managed to create over its domestic rivals during the last few years.

Unlike ruthless Sundowns, Pirates dropped points in a number of matches where they were heavy favourites, including gifting the now-relegated Cape Town Spurs their first win of the season back in November 2023.

Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro

Thomas Mlambo and Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro during the Carling Knockout launch at The Park, House of Events in Johannesburg, South Africa. 10 October 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

“It’s a question of us becoming more mature as a group, which includes the players and technical staff. We need the level of maturity to accept the challenge every three days, not just sometimes. That’s a difference between a team that can think about being a league champion or not,” Riveiro told Marawa Sports Worldwide.

“Everything else is there. The talent, the opportunity and the resources. It’s about us creating that culture and mentality to always be up for the challenge,” added Riveiro.

“[To believe] that no matter where, no matter who, no matter the circumstances — we are going to get the result. We are in that process to make this possible.”

Next season will be the best litmus test for this. It will be Riveiro’s third in South African soccer and Pirates will once again be favourites to challenge Sundowns.

The question is whether they can juggle these lofty expectations with defending their trophies once more, while also competing in the Caf Champions League. DM

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