Can Pirates look back to 2018 with satisfaction after finishing another year trophyless?
There is no doubt that 2018 was an improved year for Orlando Pirates‚ but silverware remains elusive despite a second-placed finish in the league and a Telkom Knockout final against Baroka FC in which they were heavy favourites.
Coach Micho Sredojevic has helped to turn the squad into a far more competitive unit with greater depth‚ and brought through the likes of Zambian forwards Justin Shonga and Augustine Mulenga.
Defensively they look vastly improved‚ and while the results with ‘finishing coach’ Stephane Adam is a work in progress‚ the side looks to be moving in the right direction.
Clever work in the transfer window to bring through the likes of Vincent Pule from BidVest Wits has helped to bolster the team for domestic and African Champions League action‚ and there is no doubt that the club is in a ‘better place’ than it was 12 months ago.
This is evidence by the fact that Pirates have taken more points in the calendar year than any other club – 62 from 30 games.
To put that into context‚ their great rivals Kaizer Chiefs have taken only 47 from the same number of matches‚ a big advantage for The Buccaneers.
It is a better record even than league champions Mamelodi Sundowns‚ who have 54 points from 28 games played‚ and suggests that Pirates have been the best side in the land in 2018.
Contrast that with 2017 when they managed only 35 points from 32 games and you have all the evidence you need of the massive upswing in their fortunes.
They have also managed to get something out of most of the ‘big games’‚ including three Soweto Derby wins over Chiefs from three matches played‚ games in which they were worthy winners in all‚ and taken four points from a possible six off Sundowns.
And yet they are heading for five years without a trophy and embroiled in what looks to be a tough league title battle with Wits and Sundowns‚ and just how much of a distraction their group play in the Champions League will be potentially puts them at a disadvantage.
That goes for the Nedbank Cup as well‚ a competition where they have reached two finals in the last three years and lost both.
They have also had distractions of a different sort – the bizarre incident involving striker Thamsanqa Gabuza in which he stormed off the pitch after scoring in a 2-1 win over Black Leopards showed the at times fractious relationship between the players and the fans.
Gabuza has only just been reintroduced to the team and that was away in the Seychelles in the Champions League.
The team have also had to contend with murmurs of just who is in charge on the sidelines between Sredojevic and his highly-rated assistant coach Rhulani Mokwena – a fire that was stoked by tweets from former Sundowns player Bongani Zungu.
Mokwena is certainly a rising star on the touchline but Sredojevic has come out strongly to suggest that he is very much in control of the Buccaneers’ ship.
On the pitch they have mostly gone well‚ though the goalkeeping department has not convinced and they will hope to get Brilliant Khuzwayo onto the pitch sooner rather than later.
He has been injured since his arrival from Chiefs in July‚ but would surely be the preferred option over error-prone Siyabonga Mpontshane‚ Jackson Mabokgwane and Wayne Sandilands.
For all these rumblings‚ Pirates certainly feel as though they are closer to success than in the last five years and 2019 could well be their year with a mixture of quality on the pitch‚ excellent organisation off it and‚ just perhaps‚ a change in luck.